Let the Object Tell the Story

Good morning from Marisa! I hope the first week of your march is going well!

Ever since I first read the essay “The Aging María,” I’ve been astonished by Judith Ortiz Cofer’s ability to convey in only one paragraph a narrative of three generations of women by focusing on the work of time and the elements on a yard statue of the Virgin Mary. At the same time, the piece reveals something of the deterioration of spiritual faith, and even more about its steadfastness. The essay is a descriptive tour de force, a marvel of concision, clearly situated in place and character. Though only 327 words, its scope is immense. Because of copyright laws, I cannot copy it here, but you can find the story online HERE.

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Today, if you are in need of a writing prompt, think about an object you possess that can tell its own story or stories. It might be something quite ordinary that has been around a long time. Perhaps it has symbolic or talismanic importance to you; perhaps it holds sentimental value. Maybe no one else knows its significance—so your job is to recount it. Describe it in lush sensory detail. Reveal its history. Place it in the spotlight, show it in a scene or two, and see whether your focus on it reveals something about your own character. Let yourself write freely and fully; if you get something you can use, you can always go back later to revise for precision and concision.

Though this exercise is geared toward nonfiction writing, fiction writers can also work with it. Think of characters who are defined by the objects they value or are always seen with (Linus and his blanket, Silas Marner and his gold, any one of Tim O’Brien’s soldiers in “The Things They Carried”). In what ways can your characters’ objects help to tell their stories?

Poets, by the way, I do not mean to neglect you. This exercise seems like one you might practice often, in that it asks strong images to carry narrative impact.

Happy writing, everyone!

5 thoughts on “Let the Object Tell the Story

  1. Thank you for sharing this, I really enjoyed it. It also inspired me to write about an object that has helped me keep my sanity for the majority of the past 6 months, so I am going to venture out to write about it.

    Also, I am back on track today with writing….I went beyond my 30 minutes and wrote for an hour today, writing 2008 words. Felt so good!

  2. Ava,

    I’m so glad you found this prompt to be of use! I hope you’re catching up on your writing now and only read this reply afterward.


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