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Story Ideas in Anecdotes and Everyday Objects
I once had coffee with an elderly neighbor who was grieving the passing of her beloved cat. As we talked about profound loss inside her living room, I noticed a leather stool standing at a corner wall. The leather cushion seat was riddled with cat scratch marks. I called my neighbor’s attention to it and she began her story.
“That stool is a rare find from a flea market. I once bought a scratching post for Toochie, but he doesn’t want it. He would rather sharpen his claws on that stool. He likes the sound of his claws puncturing the leather. I kept that away from him and told him to use his scratching post. Then I had that stool upholstered. But Toochie became inconsolable. He wouldn’t eat, so I just gave him back the stool and let him have his way. Now I don’t know if I should get rid of that thing. It keeps reminding me of Toochie, and it makes me sad.”
What my neighbor told me is potential for a great story. It is an anecdote well told about how an inanimate object became instrumental in bringing memories to an old woman’s life. This story contains all the necessary elements that make for an expanded short story. It has a good plot line that, when further explored, contains the following elements that we can deconstruct as:
Narration: How the stool became riddled with scratch marks.
Foreshadowing: The stool was taken away from Toochie.
Dialogue: My neighbor tells her cat to use his scratching post.
Motivation: For my neighbor, the stool is a rare find; for her cat, the sensation of puncturing leather.
Characterization: My old neighbor and her cat Toochie.
Crisis: Toochie became inconsolable when the stool was taken away.
Suspense: Toochie wouldn’t eat.
Conclusion: My neighbor just let Toochie have his way.
This is a well-told anecdote about a leather stool. It is in itself a story outline ready to be fleshed out. People have an inclination for sentimentality, and this is extended to the value of things they keep. Most objects have an awesome story to tell, whether true or made up. If it is made up, an imaginative writer in search of a good story can always come up with biographies for common objects using the “WH” question frame. Let’s say you saw an old bicycle with a missing front wheel in a junkyard. Using the WH questions, the writer can use the answers as the mainframe for the story.
The old bicycle: Why is it missing a wheel? What is it doing in the junkyard? Who put it there? Where is the owner of the bicycle? How long has the bicycle been in the junkyard? When did that bicycle lose a wheel?
Formulating answers for these questions can give you a plot outline. The writer has the freedom to formulate how many questions he can ask. More questions, more answers; more answers, more story development. The length is up to the writer, whose only limit is his imagination.
Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Vincent Dublado