Friday, December 9, 2011


The collecting impulse strikes some of us early. Leaves, bugs, buttons, rocks, dinosaur names, birds observed, shells, stamps - we organize our collections, making lists of what we have and what we need. The things collected change over time - action figures, all the works of an author, the music of a particular singer or band, shoes, the memorabilia of a sports team, the episodes of a television show, ornaments - and the drive to collect may vary in intensity, but the urge to collect is not limited to any one personality type. And although whatever is collected may not make sense to outsiders, chances are good that there are other like-minded collectors.

Adding the collecting side to a character creates all sorts of possibilities to a story. Isabella's need to collect Fireside Girl patches often is the main drive of a Phineas and Ferb episode. A child who likes to collect bugs may grow up to become a biologist or entomologist. A budding rock collector might become a geologist or a jeweler. Or just stay someone who likes rocks. For a story set in the far future, I'm confident that space ship spotting will be just as popular as train spotting or aircraft spotting nowadays.

Everyone knows that dragons collect gold. The fun part of Jessica Day George's Dragon Slippers was discovering that dragons collect other things as well. Like shoes. And dogs.

Firefly fans remember that the pilot, Wash, had a collection of small plastic dinosaurs. It wasn't a major plot point, but it added a certain something to the character.

Collections can be used as an expression of current status, or they can be a remembrance - of friends, of childhood, or just a happy time that the character revisits when sad.

I have small horse statues still from my childhood, dragon statues and artwork from when I was a big fan of the Dragonriders of Pern series and a collection of geodes (yes, I like rocks). Those were things I choose to collect. I also have some bird statues and artwork that friends gave me because I have a bird.

Perhaps a character has a collection of the teddy bears that her boyfriend gave her. If the relationship breaks up, whether she keeps or disposes of the collection would be an part of the story. And does she just throw out those teddy bears or give them to charity?

Are two characters in a story friends because they collect the same things? Or do they become rivals?

Do you have any favorite stories with collecting as an element?


  1. I used to collect things like crazy, especially unicorns and keychains, but I can't think of any stories I've read where a character has a collection. And oddly, none of the characters in my own books collect anything, except for one secondary character in an upcoming novel who collects dolphins (but she's autistic and is obsessed with dolphins...)

  2. When I was young I collected dolls and postcards and horned toads. Yep. I loved the little critters. Unfortunately they're almost extinct today. Mmm. Maybe there's a story there.

    Great post.