Significant objects

Photo of Lorna Hendry
Lorna Hendry
15 July 2015
Lorna Hendry

Writing your life story? Try out this writing workout from WV tutor Lorna Hendry in the lead-up to her Memoir in a Year workshop on Research and Interviews.

A few years ago, as an experiment in economics, Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker purchased a bunch of worthless items from garage sales for no more than a few dollars each. We’re talking about some really tacky stuff here – they included an old button, a scary cow-shaped milk jugs and a key to a motel room.

They paired each item with a writer and asked them to create a story about their object. When the objects were listed for sale on eBay along with their story, and a declaration that the stories were fictional, they sold for almost 30 times their original cost (the money was donated to charity).

Isn’t that great? As a writer, you just have to love this idea. Good stories are adding value to things that, at first glance, seem to to be dull and worthless. And you don’t have to think of ‘value’ in purely monetary terms. Value can be found in emotion, engagement and curiosity – anything that draws a reader in and makes them care.

The exercise

To try this out for yourself, just look around you. Find an object that holds meaning for you but probably looks boring or out of place to anyone else. It could be your favourite pencil, a ceramic ashtray you made in school thirty years ago or a tacky souvenir from a long-ago overseas trip (OK, this might be my office I’m thinking of).

Now craft a story about your object. If it’s based on the truth, try and capture the essence of the object so that the reader understands why it still sits on your shelf. If you’re making it up, invent a history for your object and give it some significance. Was it involved in a crime? Did it bring two lovers together?

Make your story as interesting, moving or funny as you can. Write in any style you like but try and keep it short. Aim for 400 words. And have fun.

About Lorna Hendry

Lorna Hendry’s travel memoir, ‘Wrong Way Round’, is the story of her three-year camping trip around Australia with her family. She is the author and designer of many non-fiction children’s picture books on topics as varied as penguins, the five senses and life on the equator. Lorna teaches in RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing program and has just started researching her next writing project.