The Object: Writing Prompt

First Story Writer-in-Residence Rebecca Tantony worked with students at Fulham Cross Girls’ School in 2017–18 on their anthology Herstory, a collection full of pieces by and about amazing women. When we asked Rebecca how she approaches the topic of gender and feminism with her students, she said she leads the workshop with a ‘discussion with students about limitation and dreams’ and then the students continue by ‘creating pieces from that place within them where they feel like they have so much to share, but are held back because of their gender’.

If you’re interested in writing something inspired by Women’s History Month, the exercise below can be adapted by asking students to think about an object linked to a woman in their lives they admire.

ICEBREAKER

Brainstorm some objects that you remember from your childhood, or that have always been in your home, or are important to you in some way. For example:

  • Something important that someone gave you.
  • An object or piece of clothing that you associate strongly with someone in your family.
  • A gift from someone, or an object handed down from an older relative.
  • A piece of clothing or a pair of shoes that you associate strongly with a time in your life.
  • An object that expresses something important about you, e.g. a musical instrument, a treasured football shirt, a book you read as a child.

Choose one of the objects. Brainstorm what the object brings to mind. At this stage don’t censor your thoughts. Put down everything.

Here are a few ideas for more unusual ways of thinking about your object:

  • A high point or low point in the object’s life.
  • A fragment or two of conversation that the object might have ‘overheard’ at key moments in its lifetime.
  • A memory of you or your parent/family member using the object.
  • What the object reminds you of.
  • Words to describe the object – what it looks like, sounds like, makes you feel or think.

EXERCISE: The Object

Talk to someone else about your object, using your brainstormed ideas to help you. Ask them what stood out most about what you said. Which bits seemed most interesting and enjoyable?

Think about which of these ideas or angles might make a good starting point for writing about yourself or someone else, using the object as a way of focusing your ideas.

Try a few different starting points, as in this example about one special object, a charm bracelet:

  • My mother gave me her gold charm
    bracelet, with its ballet shoe, its coffee pot,
    its fish and rabbit and tiny little doll. She gave it to
    me when I was very young, just
    a little girl, almost as if she wanted to be rid
    of it herself as quickly as she could.
  • It was her first fiancé who gave my mother the
    charm bracelet. She was all set to marry him, till, at
    the very last moment, she ditched him. He had to
    sell up everything he’d bought for her,
    including her beautiful big house,
    that lay empty, waiting for them to move in.
    ‘Keep the charm bracelet,’ he’d said.
    ‘I can’t bear to have it back.’
  • Once upon a time there was a beautiful young girl.
    She met a rich young prince who asked her to marry
    him and, of course, as all poor and beautiful girls do,
    she said yes. The only problem was, she didn’t marry
    him and it didn’t end happily ever after, because the
    beautiful young girl changed her mind.

FEEDBACK

Discuss what’s different about these starting points, which you like best and why.

You could add a further dimension to this activity by asking students to write in the voice of the object – get the object to tell its story.