Memoir Writing Prompts: Object Stories

by Matilda Butler on October 11, 2011

Writing Prompt LogoPost #109 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompt – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

Memoir Writing and a Favorite Object

As you know from recent posts, we’ve had the pleasure of visitors to our new Oregon home during the summer. While showing them the big city — Portland — we often stop at the Portland Art Museum (PAM). They have a special exhibit that might interest you.

memoir, memoir writing, memoir tips, memoir writing prompts, journalingThe exhibit is called Object Stories with a tag line, “Objects have Stories. Tell us Yours.” The exhibit is a series of audio/video recordings. As a museum attendee, you can choose stories from a panel and watch to as many as you like. It is like sampling a bit of others’ lives. The program is cosponsored by the PAM, the Northwest Film Center and done in collaboration with Write Around Portland and the Miracle Theatre Group.

If you happen to live in or near Portland, you can stop by the museum and record your own story about a favorite object. There is a booth set up and a volunteer to help you get started. Fascinating.

Memoir Writing Prompt

Okay. Let’s assume that you can’t participate in PAMs story catching. However, you can turn the idea into today’s writing prompt.

Let me share some of the details that the museum provides:

To prepare for your recording, choose your object and think about why you chose it. Ask yourself: What do I want to say about this object? What details will help my listeners understand my object or my story? Remember that good stories are ones that paint pictures for your listener.

You will be asked to electronically “tag” your story as well as provide a “six word story” that describes what your object means to you.

Here are the six points that the recording booth provides as prompts. I think you’ll find that are good for writers as well:

1. Discovery
When and how did you first receive or encounter the object?
What was your first impression of it?
Who was there?

2. Meaning
Did you know it was significant from the beginning?
How did your object gain meaning?
Has its meaning changed over time?

3. Value
What does the object say about you?
What event or person taught you the importance of this object?

4. Reward
What is the best reward of owning your object?

5. Conclusion
If you had to give it to someone, who would that be and what would you say to them?

6. Description
Before we take pictures, please describe your object.
What does it look like?
What does it feel like?
What does it smell like?

Now Write Your Memoir Vignette about a Favorite Object

I once had a student in a memoir writing workshop who had lost her mother. As she tried to clear her mother’s home, she found not only the objects her mother had purchased and loved but also pieces of furniture, trunks, boxes, journals of her maternal grandmother and great grandmother. Actually, there had been five generations of women, each of whom had a single daughter. So everything got passed down across the decades and now my student had to look at each object and decide what to do with it. It was hard for her to let go of anything as it represented her own history, a history she couldn’t pass down since she didn’t have children. One approach we discussed was creating a catalogue of all the items, much like an auction catalogue. It would be a way to write her fascinating history.

Today, I’m giving you a chance to take one item, one object, that has meant something to you and to write about it. If you like this idea, you might decide to write about more object in your home. Then when you decide to pass on an item to a child or friends, the person will get the story as well as the object.

Hope you have fun with this.

Want to listen to some of the stories at PAM? Here’s the link.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Grace Peterson October 15, 2011 at

This is so interesting because last week, long before I read this entry on your blog, I wrote about my diary. I even followed the six points. I titled it The Gift. I don’t know if you’re interested in reading it but my blog is http://www.gracepete.com. Great post!

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