No…not that toybox.
And not that one either, you pervs! 😉
In every story, you can find Toys. Your characters don’t exist in a vacuum, and they don’t roll around in bubbles. Unless they do, and as I’ve said before in this blog, I WANT TO READ THAT. Your characters interact. With each other, with the setting, and with toys. Oh, sure you can be all SRS BZNS and call ’em Props or even “Theatrical Properties,” but to me, they’re Toys.
Why toys? Because toys are FUN. And if you’re not having FUN writing your stories…why not? Even the SRS BZNS stories are full of fun–fun because you’re hacking the human soul. Fun because you’re Telling It Like It Is, at least for the duration of the book. So why wouldn’t you want to have fun with it? Toys are what your characters use and interact with and, like all good toys do, they tease and delight the imagination–of the reader, of the writer, and of the character.
Toys Have a Purpose
Every parent knows they’re going to be into the toy department for a huge chunk of their income. So we justify it by looking for ways to make toys educational, or build character, or exercise motor skills or whatnot. The toys your characters interact with can do the same. Back before he became a politician in every sense of the word, Ah-nold had two key toys in the Terminator movies (the originals, thankyouverymuch)–the shades, and the BFG. The shades served to build his character. Like the accent, they painted a picture of a being separate from the rest of the characters. Yes, I know the accent is not his fault, but you can tell he played the part as an automaton’s monotone, which the harsh Germanic tones of his Austrian accent only served to enhance–it acted as another layer separating the Terminator from the squishy, American-accented humans in the series.
And, of course, the BFG. If you watch the way he wields that thing, you can tell a lot about the character–the BFG is an extension of his arm, physically. Metaphorically, it’s who and what he is. There is no doubt in your mind that when you look at those shades that hide the humanity present in any living being’s eyes, and that BFG taking up a nice chunk of real estate right at the level of his brain, you know that what you’re looking at is a weapon on two legs. With a little chest hair.
In the second movie, when the T-1000–an upgraded, shapeshifting, more human model–returns to the past to eliminate John Connor, the same old Terminator follows him back, only this time to protect the young messiah-in-training. The Terminator hasn’t changed, but now you see his toys have become elements that limit his character in the face of T-1000’s flexibility. His toys become comic relief, but also become a point of character growth for him–he learns to do new things with the same old props, and shows the audience that even old machines can go beyond their programming. In a positive way, as opposed to the machine-overlords-Skynet way. Those same toys that defined him as Sarah Connor’s DOOM have been subverted into John Connor’s Salvation. At least until he discovers girls.
Toys can define a character’s personality as well as purpose. The Terminator, by definition, has no personality until the second half of the second movie, and even that one’s a proto-personality–he’s just slightly less of an unstoppable douchebag. But toys can do so much more than that–they can become iconic.
I know you recognize this little guy right here. Yes, everything IS better in LEGO. Look at his wonderful toys. The hat. The whip. They’ve made him an iconic character. So much so that you can recognize Harrison Ford as a little blocky brick-person with a head that’s the exact same shape as a propane canister. His toys are iconic not just because he wears them–but because he uses them. We see several scenes in the Indiana Jones movies where Indy’s whip gets him out of a pickle (and gets him a smooch from the lady). And not only does he use them, he cares about them. He risks life and limb to get that hat out of the secret passage right before the stone door closes and seals it away forever.
And when he’s without his hat and whip? BAD THINGS HAPPEN. He’s possessed by an evil priest of Kali-Ma. He loses the Ark of the Covenant to a pair of bureaucratic G-Men who stuff it in a vault so deep under the National Archives that the place is dusted by Morlocks. And he’s besieged by rabid co-eds.
Look at your stories and ask yourself–and your characters–what kind of toys do you want to play with? And why aren’t you playing right now?
She’s absolutely sure he’s not the marrying kind…
He’s absolutely sure she’s right…
But he’s still going to prove her wrong.