I studied history at university.
Most people think of history as big lists of dates and kings and revolutions and war. My favorite moments in studying history were when someone directed my attention to the tiny things that allowed me to see how people really lived, what they were really like, in the foreign country of the past: shopping lists for Venetian guilds that provided clues as to which festivals they took part in (and when); journals by minor figures aboard ship in the early years of the European exploration of the Americas; how the plays and literature of a period could tell us about everything from economics to gender politics…
Big things happen in our world every day. I listen to news radio dry-eyed all morning, and yet (every damned week) a three minute segment on Fridays makes me cry. It’s StoryCorps, a project in which ordinary people interview each other about things that have mattered in their lives. It ranges from personal testimonies about 9/11, to an old couple reminiscing about their courtship 50 years earlier.
Write a story rooted in the small moments of everyday life.
- Think of the things that give you pleasure: a beautifully prepared dish of tasty nutritious food; a warm bed; the moment the sun dips below the horizon; the sun shining on a cut lemon on your kitchen counter. Write a story rooted in, starting from, or ending at that moment.
- Read poetry that celebrates the mundane and relates it to bigger questions: for example, Birches, by Robert Frost or The Flea by John Donne. You don’t have to write poetry to make a small, everyday thing enough to power a whole story.
- Listen to a StoryCorps interview and use it as the basis for a story.
- Look around you right now. What can you see? What objects give you pleasure? Why? Imagine a character who gets similar pleasure from that object. Why? How can you make the story more universal? Focus on the tiny reasons for joy and write a story inspired by that.
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