Using Props in Writing by Nancy Radke

What benefits can we get from using “props” in writing? When I first started writing, I used to map out the different characters in each story, giving them an internal as well as external background. I used character charts to keep each person unique, to help the reader visualize them and keep them separate. It kept me from having to name them each time they speak. Another technique I used was props, those little extras that make a story come to life.


A tomboy will dress differently than a more feminine woman. Just describing their outfits helps distinguish one person from another. The actor, Harrison Ford, said that when he was “getting into” a part, he always visited the prop room and looked for some prop that he could make part of his character, such as the hat and whip for Indiana Jones. It helped him switch into the role when they were ready to film. In the same way, certain props help me keep characters apart when writing. I’ve used guns as props, such as the Kentucky rifle that the heroine used to warn off the hero in The Richest Man in Texas.

Let’s talk mannerisms…

The same goes for mannerisms. One person might always clear his throat before beginning to speak or stroke his chin while thinking. A proud woman will toss her head while a shy person will keep her head and gaze lowered. Even the way a person walks will tell you a lot about the person—confident and bold with a long stride as opposed to the short, quick steps of a nervous individual.

Animals are also a type of prop. A tall, athletic-looking man leading a poodle on a leash shows a conflict of the outer image with the inner one. Clint Eastwood used a monkey. Indiana Jones had a fear of snakes. I usually have a dog in my stories, as I’ve had various dogs around all my life, and a dog can become part of the plot, such as the black Lab named Lucky in my cozy mystery series, Any Lucky Dog Can Follow a Trail of Blood.

Lucky Dog Series

Although not as easy to use, horses can also become very important props, such as the intelligent horse named Hero in The Smartest Horse in Texas. This horse was like having another character around and dominated the story. Ditto for the mule called General Wheezer in The Quietest Woman in the South. That mule had a big bite and a hard kick and a soft spot for little children.

Next time you watch a film or read a book, notice what props are used to help you relate to the characters.