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Christine DeSmet says “Collecting is a clever way to make a character memorable.”

Christine DeSmet is the author of the Fudge Shop Series of cozy mysteries. You can find out more about her on her website,, or by clicking here, see her last post here, and buy her books here.

A character can be saved or energized instantly by giving her/him a collection habit or a yearning for certain unusual objects. A collection of something weird or a huge collection of something interesting can add value to both protagonists and antagonists. Some novels and movies have used art or museum collections in plots about heists, murder, or international intrigue. All kinds of other collections, too, can make a character, a story, or a novel memorable.

A recent PBS “Wisconsin Life” television story presented a true-life collector who is a great example of a person or character we care about because of his unique collection. Shawn Redner collects cat figurines. He lives in Menomonee Falls, Wis., and loves traveling with his wife Hilary to second-hand shops, auctions, and other sales.

On the surface, this might seem like a silly habit to add to your novel’s character. However, Shawn’s backstory adds depth. Shawn began this journey with cat figurines as a way to keep himself busy after he gave up alcohol. Shawn has worked hard to be well, and thus the cat collecting has deeper meaning than we might expect at first. Shawn has a collection of over 5,000 cat figurines and he’d like to top the Guinness record of 21,300 cat figurines.

There’s also more to this “character” and this tale. Because he wanted to share his story and collection, Shawn now runs Redner’s Rescued Cat Figurine Mewseum, with open houses Nov. 19 and 24, Dec. 17 and 26.

Visitor donations go to local cat rescue groups. So, the figurine cats are saving real cats now.

Many readers identify with collecting and collectors. A “sense of self” accompanies the collecting habit. Deep emotions might be attached to collecting. History or backstory is also attached. By making your character a “collector” you can ratchet up your reader’s emotional involvement. The organization called Collectives Insurance Services ran a July 2023 article outlining the benefits of collecting—which can help you build characters and plot:

Collecting 1) creates curiosity, 2) improves creativity, 3) reduces stress, 4) promotes nostalgia, 5) improves organizational skills, 6) fosters social connections, and 7) may create career possibilities. About 40 percent of households exhibit a collection of one kind or another. In other words—readers might connect in a big way to your characters involved with collecting or a collection.

Collecting can sometimes be competitive, which could add a little friction to characters in any type of novel ranging from comedies to thrillers. There are technical terms for types of collectors: philatelist (stamps), lepidopterist (butterflies), cdeopterist (beetles), oologist (eggs), tegestologist (beer coasters), vexillogogist (flags), and so on. I couldn’t find a term for “cat figurine collector.” Maybe that’s a “mewologist”?

In my Fudge Shop Mystery Series, Ava and her grandmother collect expensive Belgian cups. Grandpa collects fishing equipment. Who might steal them? Or murder for them? The possible plots—and the emotional weight for readers—are gifts waiting for me to use.  

What do you collect?

What does your protagonist or antagonist collect? Or covet?

If you’ve used collecting or collections in a plot, let us know the title of your novel, story, or movie.

Christine DeSmet

Christine DeSmet is the author of the Fudge Shop Mystery Series set in Door County, and the Mischief in Moonstone Series set in northwest Wisconsin. You can find out more about her on her website,, or follow her on Facebook.

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Anne Louise Bannon
    Anne Louise Bannon

    I love the idea of collections providing insight into the characters. In my latest Operation Quickline novel, my characters are on the honeymoon in Europe and start collecting art. After numerous references (but no actual disclosure) to their rather exuberant sex life, he remarks to her, “This art collecting is getting more out of hand than our sex life.”

  2. GP Gottlieb
    GP Gottlieb

    I had a great record collection. Then I collected CDs. No more collecting for me, but I think I’ll give one of my characters a collection habit. It sure does provide some insight-

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      I didn’t have a record collection or even tapes, but you prompted me to remember my first record player. I got it for Christmas in high school from Santa and one of the albums Santa gave me was Elvis’s religious album. (Not sure why; I was always a good kid!) I also got Bobbie Gentry’s album. We were poor so despite the odd musical mix I played those albums over and over because it was all I had. I can still hear Gentry singing “off the Tallahatchie Bridge.” (Forgive any misspelling.). Thanks for the memory!

  3. Avatar
    Margaret Mizushima

    I love Shawn Redner’s story, Christine! Very interesting take on how to give your character more depth. I used to collect horse figurines, but that hobby has long since gone by the wayside. My mother and I used to collect books in our favorite authors’ series. Very fun way to revisit stories we loved.

  4. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Christine — Creating characters with collections is a terrific idea! My mother collected Hummels, Norman Rockwell, and Lladro figurines. I enjoy reading about Ava and her grandmother’s Belgian cup collections and how Grandpa collects fishing equipment. As a matter of fact, I’m reading your latest release, HOLLY JOLLY FUDGE FOLLY, as we speak.

  5. Carl Vonderau
    Carl Vonderau

    II am always looking for unusual objects that can help evoke my characters. Great idea to look at collectables. I love the cat figures and the reason for them.

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      Thanks, Carl. Best wishes on your treasure hunts on behalf of your characters!

  6. Joy Ann Ribar
    Joy Ann Ribar

    As always, Christine, you bring something new to the writing table for consideration! Bay Browning (MC in The Medusa Murders) collects old Roman glass. She fell in love with the sea-green relics when she traveled to a dig site with her anthropologist father during her childhood. Frankie Champagne (Deep Lakes series) collects wooden animal and nisse figures her father carved as a hobby. She’s placed them in nooks and crannies all over Bubble and Bake in wooded scenes as part of the shop’s hygge atmosphere. I love that you bring Shawn’s relevant story as an illustration of meaningful collecting.

  7. Sherrill Joseph
    Sherrill Joseph

    Christine, I love the idea of making a character a collector with an unusual backstory! That gives me a great idea for my next book. Thanks! I collect classic literature books, cookie cutters, and Belsnickels for Christmas decorations.

  8. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    Thanks for all these comments! Collecting is endlessly fascinating–as are characters. I’m reading Sherrill Joseph’s very fun mystery book featuring so much lore concerning Edgar Allan Poe, and it takes place at a Victorian mansion filled with a collection of things that gives clues to solving the mystery. Nice job, Sherrill! The book is JACARANDA STREET/GRAVESTONE IMAGE.

  9. Avatar

    Very interesting idea, Christine, and not just for characters. I used to collect books, but after losing them in a hurricane, I gave that up. I still have a collection of old English sheepdog figurines!

  10. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    Saralyn, I’m enchanted by the idea of your collection of Old English Sheepdog figurines! What a novel collection. I love dogs and you just jogged my memory about my mother. She had a collection of china dogs and cats she kept in a curio cabinet. I believe some of those items belonged to my grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Fortunately, my relatives who took over the house kept the curio cabinet.

  11. Avatar
    Avanti Centrae

    Good idea. I like it!

  12. Sheila Lowe
    Sheila Lowe

    I accidentally collected some tea pots. Because I’m from England and I drink tea, people seem to think I collect tea pots (I don’t!) and have given me several as gifts. What I’m more apt to collect is Egyptian-style artifacts. At this time in my life, though, I’m downsizing. I love the cat collector story.

  13. tracey64p

    That’s an interesting story to give a character because there is always the “why?” Why collect cat figurines? Why collect teapots? Why collect skulls? Yes, that’s my weird obsession. Since I began writing crime fiction, I’ve seen them as more than just a skull. Each has a personality and a back story. Like my characters. Besides, whether painted, ceramic, decorated with butterflies or carved from quartz, I like them.

  14. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    Personally, I collect movies and thank goodness we have streaming now because the transition from VHS to DVD to BlueRay was expensive and time consuming. Plus, they took up a lot of room. Putting everything in the cloud was still expensive, but I have much more room now.
    I love the idea of making a character a collector. As ever, thank you for your insights!

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      The idea of collecting movies is great. I have a friend or two who used to have entire rooms filled with movie tapes. For a mystery author, I like the idea of finding that type of room in the manuscript as I write and then looking for the clues that might lead me to think that person was a murderer OR was the victim for some reason having to do with the collection of movies. You have a great plot device in that type of collection! Thanks for bringing that idea to my attention.

  15. Avatar
    Czech Mate

    Wanna? Gonna?
    Lemme getcha
    movin’ write:

    ‘Purify your souls with
    deeds of love and mercy’

    Cya soon, miss gorgeous…

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