This is the Hugo House “How-To” series. Every week (give or take a few) we’ll share a short tip related to the writing life. This week’s post comes from Abby Frucht. Her March 19 workshop, The Tarot of Character, will apply the method of tarot card reading to the construction of character in both fiction and nonfiction.
When I first thought up this workshop, I realized that the formula could as meaningfully be applied to places and objects. Here’s something you can do to get a taste of that process before the March 19 workshop.
Select an object from your house. The object needn’t be of obvious importance right off the bat, since the point of this exercise is to recognize and construct things that might make it important enough to be turned into a story.
Next, answer these ten questions about your object, on paper or in your mind. For my examples here, my object is a tiny leather book of blank lined pages.
1. Name “what covers” your object, the qualities that speak in its favor.
The leather book looks like something a hobbit might carry. It has a formal, almost mythic appearance, with gilt fore edges and delicate pages.
2. Name something that “crosses” or might ruin your object.
Dust and disuse amid the clutter on the shelf.
3. What happened to your object in the past?
I bought the book as a gift for my son. He was nineteen, about to leave home, and somehow it struck me as perfect for his adventure but he was unimpressed. Why did he need a tiny book when he could write stuff in his phone? He left the book in his room when he left town.
4. What is just passing, regarding your object?
The book sat untouched on my son’s shelf for years. To me, it symbolized a failure, on my part, to know him.
5. What is happening to your object now?
I have taken the book from my son’s room, but since it’s still not mine to claim, I haven’t written in it. Plus, I too now write notes on my phone!
6. What MIGHT happen to the object?
I’ll donate it.
7. What WILL happen to the object?
I will ask my son, someday, why he didn’t like it. I’ll tell him all my thoughts about it.
8. What are my hopes for the object?
He and I will laugh about it, and me, and him, together.
9. What are my fears for the object?
That I’ll write in the book and regret having sullied it.
10. What would be someone else’s opinion of your object?
“It’s a novelty item. She bought it at Barnes & Noble. Get over it!”
11. What is the final outlook for your object?
From now on, the book will only be a book, too small to write in comfortably. I know
this because last night I tried.
There! We’ve constructed a narrative from just a tiny book and from your object as well, I hope. In workshop you’ll do the same for a person, real or fictional, and talk about the uses of this exercise in all our writing.
Abby Frucht is a recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts awards. She is a novelist, essayist, critic, and short story writer who teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts. At home in Wisconsin, she currently serves as a PEN/Faulkner judge. She and Laurie Alberts, with whom she collaborated on the new novel, A Well-Made Bed, will be appearing at University Bookstore on March 20 for An Evening of Collaborative Novelists.