Writing 201: Consider using an object as a way “in” to the story


Doing something a bit different today at Do Not Get Sick in the Sink, Please.  I’m participating in the Writing 201 workshop over at the Daily Post. You can read all about the workshop in the post titled “Getting the Most Out Of Workshopping: A Writing 201 Primer.”

Anyway, here’s a link to today’s post for the workshop: “Writing 201: What’s Your Angle?” and I am responding to the following prompt:

5) Consider using an object as a way “in” to the story.

Writer Andrea Badgley suggests that objects hold their own stories — that any object can be a talisman infused with meaning.

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Excerpt

There were two sofas in the visitor’s lounge of the Dripping Springs Treatment Center and Eugenie carefully weighed the pros and cons of each before deciding where to sit.

The green striped sofa, near the bulky beige heating unit that let out a low buzzing sound whenever it kicked on as if it were powered by a swarm of yellow jackets, had a large indeterminate stain that spread from one seat cushion to the next, in the shape of the state of North Dakota.  The bright red sofa, next to three potted plants that appeared to be in the final stages of some withering disease, was free of stains, although located in the decidedly cooler temperatures near a pair of drafty windows.  Since she had worn a sweater, Eugenie sat down on the red sofa and folded her hands in her lap.  She turned her wrist to check the time on her United States Postal Service Commemorative watch.  Her sister, Wynetta, was running late again.

Eugenie spotted LaVella first, as soon as the older woman appeared in the doorway.  Watching her mother walk toward her, Eugenie realized sobriety did not wear well on LaVella Johnston.

Off the wagon, LaVella took great pains in maintaining her appearance, carefully applying makeup and styling her hair each day.  Some of Eugenie’s earliest memories were of sitting alongside LaVella at her dressing table, watching her mother, a tumbler of Johnny Walker in one hand and a mascara wand in the other, skillfully applying makeup in ways Eugenie would never master.

In the grip of sobriety, LaVella was almost unrecognizable.  Her skin was dry, and she had dark circles under her eyes.  Her hair was wild, desperately trying to escape a headband she wore in an unsuccessful attempt to restrain it.  Her figure, still admirable at her age, was hidden in a pair of baggy blue jeans and a frumpy sweater with a large appliqué of a lobster sewn on it.  Eugenie had not seen her mother in that particular sweater before.

“I got it out of the donation pile,” LaVella explained, sitting in an armchair across from her daughter as she picked lint off the front of the sweater.  “It looked better in the pile than it does on.”  LaVella lifted the sweater up to her nose and sniffed it.  “Smells a little like dog, too.”

“Didn’t we pack enough clothes for you?  You shouldn’t be taking things from donations.  I’ll bring more next time I come.”

LaVella waved her daughter off.  “No, no.  I’ve got a system.  I’ve always hated doing the damn laundry, and the best thing about this place is that when I run out of clean clothes, I just pick some more up from the donation pile.”

“But they aren’t clean!  They smell like dog!”

LaVella shrugged off her daughter’s objection.  “You get used to it after awhile.”  She looked at Eugenie and smiled.  “You look tan and rested.  I see that vacation did you some good.  Tell me all about La Costa Laguna, starting with the open bar.  Did they serve those fancy drinks with the fruit and the paper umbrellas in them every night?”  LaVella’s eyes were bright with excitement.

Eugenie filled her mother in about her vacation, leaving out the parts about alcoholic beverages and any mention of Guillermo.  She showed her mother some of the dark, blurry and unfocused photos she had kept on her phone, having to explain each picture as her mother squinted and turned her head sideways in an effort to decipher the images.

“I guess it looks like you had fun,” LaVella said as she leaned back in her chair.  “And now what’s all this I hear about you calling off the wedding?”

Eugenie didn’t bother to ask how her mother, locked away in a treatment facility and supposedly focused on getting sober, would even know about the break up.  This was Dripping Springs, and everyone knows everything.

Eugenie took a deep breath and was about to explain that Virgil Jr. had called off the wedding, although she was just about to call if off herself, anyway, she really was, when Wynetta finally showed up, the click of her heels on the tile floor announcing her arrival as she swiveled her hips toward them.

“Mom, you look absolutely awful!” Wynetta said. She looked from one sofa to the next, and then opted to stand. “What are they doing to you here?”

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Goal To reveal a bit more about the three characters and their relationships, through their conversation and the objects (furniture, clothing) around them.

My Questions My first question, always: “Is it funny?” 😉 My second question in regards to today’s post, “Writing 201: What’s Your Angle?” is how successful am I in achieving the goal?

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