1. Introduction: Have you heard of the term “Objective Correlative?” The term was coined by T.S. Eliot to explain emotional connections between people and objects in literature. In a story if you want to summon emotion, you put that emotion into an object and the emotion is stored there. Later you can summon that emotion up in a powerful
2. The Old Rocking Chair: Like the man who walks past a rocking chair each morning and slows and gazes at it, tears filling his eyes. He then shrugs and continues on into the kitchen. So why did he take such an interest in the chair? The theater crowd watches your character do that and they store it up in the back of their minds. Then in Act three said character argues with his brother who kicks the chair. Said man goes into hysterics and says, “Leave his chair alone! You hated him anyway!” One day said character ceremoniously puts an end to his mourning. He calls St. Vincent De Paul to take the chair. Reluctantly he watches them drive off with it…his dead father’s favorite chair. So you’ve got the chair as an objective correlative. You pack it with emotion by showing how characters (often different ones) react to it in different ways. Perhaps other characters in the story won’t care for the chair at all, because they didn’t care for the guy who used to sit in it all the time.
3. Start Early On: Introduce an object early on, get your characters to react to it, and later in the story you can recall it to create the desired effect.
4. A Character Can Be Treated As An Object: It is possible to turn a character in your story into an Objective Correlative. After all, character is desire. What a woman wanted when she was young determines what she did when she was young, what kind of people she hung around. And all that goes in to determining who she is today. How other characters act toward her or in response to things she does or says is much determined by their past experiences with either her or someone she reminds them of. The woman may have a daughter she’s close to. She’s been that girl’s best friend all her life, and as adults they are like sisters; they do everything together. The interaction between mother and daughter has caused both of them, especially the daughter, to store up a lifetime of emotions, each in the other, so each time they see each other those old emotions are aroused. The culmination of all the positive and negative emotions has a great effect on how they feel about each other.
5. Pain Or Pleasure? We like what has given us pleasure and usually despise what gives us pain (unless pain gives us pleasure and pleasure gives us pain). People’s interrelationships are complex compared to one person’s action or reaction toward an object. The principle of correlation of emotions transfers from interrelationships to people-object relationships nicely though.
6. Cataloging Emotional Experiences: Objective Correlative works in fiction because it comes from real life. Our minds instinctively collect experiences good and bad and logs them away somewhere. At some point the mind catalogues the gentle and warm and connects them to an object or person (Not always the correct object or person). Negative experience is likewise catalogued. The sum of all those correlations influences a character’s action or reaction to others.
7. Paycheck Day: Imagine if on January second each year a short gray haired man came up your walk, knocked on the door, and presented you with a check for fifty thousand dollars. Each January second, you anticipate his arrival. For twenty January seconds, this short old man gives you a check. Soon you’ve got short gray haired man on the brain. You love old small guys. You laugh when you see them, even think of them. You want to stop and chat with him, maybe give him a pat on his little gray head. Soon you celebrate January second. You call it “Paycheck Day,” and refuse to fall to the mundane on “Paycheck Day.” The front door old gray knocks on is now sacred, and the walk with it. Nothing associated with old gray haired man is bad, empty, and barren to you; not after the second or third Paycheck Day.
8. Guilt Over a Debt: What if a short gray haired balding bill collector constantly harped you about money owed. Every gray hair on his head angers you. Then, after constant harping, you trade your anger for guilt. You feel guilty whenever you see him for the debt. You get nauseous whenever you see him. And pretty soon you feel nauseous at the sight of any short gray haired man.
9. Your Turn: So what objects or characters in your story/poem cause your main character emotional stress? He hates fat people because he’s a glutton? A lady has bad experiences with married men so she is uncomfortable around all married men because, “They’re all the same?” He befriends a kindly old man to replace the void in his life from the dead grandfather he once used to chat comfortably with on the porch?
10. The Dog Whisperer: Some have great sensitivity to correlations with objects. My wife collects knickknacks, pictures of people, furniture, plates, and watches – all neatly organized. Each precious object triggers a flood of emotion in her. It’s the same with her relationship with animals. When I met her I knew she wasn’t a pet person. She had a dog she kept in a pen outside and never talked to or cared much about. One day she took that dog and dropped it off in some neighborhood to get rid of it. Her dad heard about it and went and got the dog and took care of it himself. So, she’s not a dog person, right? Wrong. Our daughter got herself a dog and it learned to depend on my wife. My wife soon grew so attached to that dog that they were inseparable. I had to learn to sleep with that dog in bed with us. She loved dog number too just as much. How could she abandon one dog yet love others? The answer: the first dog, the one she despised was the family dog when she was married before me. She correlated that dog with her ex and all the hurts living with him had caused her. Each time she saw her ex with that dog, feeding it, petting it, walking with it, stored up negative emotion in her she correlated with the dog.
11. How Do They Relate? Where’s emotional correlation in your story? Record objects and characters from your story and think how they relate to each other. How does Tanya, a plain looking lady, view her boss after he made a pass at her then told everyone he thought her ugly to get her back for refusing him? How many positives to erase that negative? A son hates his mom for cheating on his dad. The foster kid walks sullenly up the walkway of his new parent’s house after being abused at his last two houses. The voter shakes his head in disgust when yet another politician promises change.
Find correlations, link them all together in a way you can understand your characters and scene, and your story will write itself.
Don V Standeford
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