My garages are train wrecks. I'm not sure why my sense of organization and order doesn't translate there, but it's been a lifelong bad habit. So today I (and when I say I, I mean my husband and me) tackled the dreaded space. Actually I spent the morning working solo as most of the stuff is mine. Don't sign me up for Hoarders just yet. There were no dead possums or hidden treasures from the early 1700's. But there were many, many things. Items. Doodads. Whatchamacallits. And the further I burrowed into the crates and cardboard boxes, my hands covered with lovely yellow vinyl gloves that robbed the spiders of some of their creep power, I found myself overwhelmed by feelings that hitchhiked with the unearthed items. (Hang in there. Writing advice is on its way.)
Feelings welled up with every item I found, not just the sentimental photographs or schmaltzy notes from fourth grade friends. Everything I touched harbored a distinct feeling, beyond tactile innervation, a biting spark. Some positive, some negative, some just strange. And I didn't reserve emotions solely for the unlucky objects headed into green borough bags. The things I kept winked at me from shelves, wondering if I'd touch them again or reminding me that they used to live somewhere else, possibly a somewhere else I didn't want to return to, not even for a moment. Others screamed on their way to the trash bag, momentarily stinging me before I could be rid of them.
One of the worst? A piece of my son's old, blue cast. I instantly remembered how heavy a sobbing four-year-old can be with a leg broken clean through, being carried through the ER.
Instead of dining on ashes though, I thought about writing. I considered my most recent project and the role of tangible things in my stories. Objects are powerful. They remind, they cost, they occupy space. How much does your character monetarily or emotionally pay for an object? Where does that character put it in his or her life? What is the effect on the surrounding characters? And what memories forever affix themselves to the object?
What your character carries in his or her pocket, the thing that is buried in the backyard, the item that never leaves the nightstand...don't overlook it. I strongly believe that a writer's subconscious is a fabulous and fanciful place, so if your brain plants a few choice items in a scene, never take them for granted. Explore the power they hold over your characters and your readers.
In addition to a pristine garage and a roller coaster of emotions - yes, I'll willingly admit that I cried among TMNT figurines and Halloween knickknacks - I'm thrilled that I found a gentle characterization reminder. I sit now scanning the family room, cataloging the objects and studying all of the invisible strings attached to each one.