Christine DeSmet is the author of the Fudge Shop Series of cozy mysteries. You can find out more about her on her website, www.christinedesmet.com, 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.