Adding Significance


Last week I ran across a rather nifty experiment – the Significant Objects Project. Several writers each chose a random, seemingly worthless item picked up from a thrift shop or yard sale, created a story to go along with it, then listed each item on eBay for sale. The experiment is designed to determine if an object’s perceived value increases when it has an interesting story attached. I was utterly fascinated. We all imbue certain importance to objects in our lives, even when those objects have no generic value of their own. Think about the first time you show your trinkets off to someone. There’s always a story to go along with them. Most of the time that story is rather ordinary – where you bought it, how you managed to finagle it away from another bidder, that sort of thing. But occasionally there’s something different to say, something that increases the value of the item by virtue of its strangeness.

I’m a sucker for thrift shops. I used to spend every Saturday morning prowling the Goodwill store and local yard sales, hunting for weird little trinkets that struck my fancy. I have a huge brass padlock, an even bigger baroque-style candlestick, a small brass incense thurible and a small statue of the Virgin with the moon at her feet, among other things. Each one of those objects intrigued me, made me wonder what their stories might be. Maybe the statue belonged to Marilyn Monroe, who was secretly the leader of a coven of white witches working to stop the tensions in Central America. What if my thurible causes everyone who breathes in the smoke to fall under the holder’s sway? Or it could be that my lock was the lock on Anne Boleyn’s cell door when she was imprisoned in the Tower, and is still haunted by the guilty spirit of the jailer who had to keep her.

If you’re having trouble getting started with a story, or you just don’t know what to write about, this is a superb exercise. Look around your house, find some random object and write a story about where it camefrom. Don’t worry about whether it makes sense, or whether the facts you attach to it are correct. Just go nuts. If you want to, post your (short, please!) stories here in the comments.


11 comments to Adding Significance

  • Significant Objects is a very cool project. My favorite story so far is the Miniature Bottle:

    I also buy things that strike my story-sense. And just the fact that I love stuff – it’s like tangible memories. 🙂

    Great post – thanks!
    – Heidi

  • Just a simple oval mirror I had seen once, but it prompted me to write the beginning of a novel I still haven’t finished…
    I first happened upon the mirror in a local pawn shop while looking for something that might awaken my writer’s muse. It was a plain thing, small and round with a simple knot pattern for the frame. The pattern looked to be Celtic, but not completely so. Though it was not much to look at, I found myself staring at it like it was the most magnificent thing I had ever seen. When I inquired about the mirror the shop owner simply said that it was just an old mirror and he honestly did not remember where he had acquired it. I finally purchased it and took it home to hang on my wall in the study.

    It was several days later when I sat in my chair and tried in vain once again to write something useful. The two words ‘Chapter One’ stared back defiantly at me once again from the page. I sat there, my fingers on the keyboard, and gazed blankly at the screen.

    It was then that the first flash caught my eye. I turned and looked across the room to the old mirror I had purchased. There seemed nothing strange about it. It looked the same as it always had. Merely a reflection through the window from a passing car, I thought. I turned back to the screen and continued my vigilant staring, hoping that this night would be different, that words would actually spring to the page.

    Another flash drew my attention and I turned to look, this time catching what I thought was a reflection in the mirror. I stood and crossed the room to stare into the mirror, much like I had the screen just seconds earlier. I could see myself, tired, irritated and nearly ready to toss my computer out the window.

    “Well, do it again.” I said to nothing in particular. I wanted to know where the reflection was coming from so I could stop it from distracting me from my all important screen watching. Then it flashed again. No longer was I reflected in the mirror, but some other face. The flash was too quick to see clearly, but the image was of a man standing at what I thought was the prow of a sailing ship. As the image faded I reached out as though I could catch it and hold it in place. As my fingers touched the mirror’s surface it flared to life. The bright flash caught me off guard and I closed my eyes.

  • Heidi, I wanted the bottle myself, on the basis of the story. I can’t help wondering how the new owner will fare… *grin*

  • Deb S

    Sounds like a good exercise.
    I found a website that’s doing a 250 word story contest based on a picture prompt. I may give it a shot. Write something up tonight after work or maybe at lunch.

  • I love thrift shops. I had a story about the hidden significance of thrift store junk place runner up in a contest last year. There’s a lot of writing material to be found when people discard of things.

    If you really want to get some bizarre inspiration, look at thrifthorror on LiveJournal. The postings there make me laugh until I cry.

  • Misty, I don’t think I could handle actually *having* the bottle, as much as I loved the story it freaked me out a bit. I did think of getting Chili Cat, but then didn’t pay attention to the auction end date and missed it. Maybe Magical Worlds can have a contest where you guys post a pic of something related to your books and people write 500 word stories for it?

  • Heidi, that’s a great idea!

  • Misty, I guess it doesn’t count if I do it backwards. Write a novel and then make the jewelry for it. (grins) But I just got a realy cool strand of green fourite and so maybe I’ll play with that a bit. I like the idea of a stone mage and what happens when a flourite gem is suddenly exposed to magic… Hmmm. Okay. Later. Back to rewrtes.

  • Added Significance is why J. Peterman‘s clothes are so cool. 🙂

  • JanetteJr

    Love the post. I don’t think I have anything in my home (other than major appliances) that does not have a story. To paraphrase Rod Stewrt and Ron Wood “Every tchotchke tells a story don’t it.”

  • Catie, exactly! Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab also works that way. I wouldn’t be nearly so drawn to their scents without the interesting tales attached.