Are you stuck for an idea or plot line? Try this trick.
Look at an everyday item — or even better, an usual item — and think about it. What are its origins? Its purpose? How did it get here? Mostly… does it have a story to tell?
Emptying the dishwasher, I was reminded about 3 strange serving spoons. They’re nothing special in terms of style or silver quality … just good, old functional Rogers silverplate– probably picked up from a consignment shop or yard sale when we needed some.
I decided to gather them together for this exercise. Here are 4 easy steps to get you started:
First – observation: These are well-used spoons as evident by the skewed tips. Instead of a rounded oval, we see the left side angled – worn away. What could have caused so much wear? Were they used in a restaurant? In a soup kitchen? In the military? In a hospital? Did they pass through generations?
Although relatively plain, the handle is engraved with a “B.” What does that tell us about the owners? Were they of simple means or simple taste? What happened to the rest of the set? Who or what was the “B?”
Does that “B” represent a family name? Baker? Bleufort? Brill? Could it signify an establishment? The Biltmore? Brigham? Birmingham? Might it represent a city or organization?
Second – research: The imprint on the back side of the handle says “Rogers & Bros. SA? ½” or so it seems. Thank goodness for the internet. I turn there to learn about silverplate and to try to identify the pattern. After a long educational scroll, it appears that this is called “Tipped” and was produced in 1879, made by “1847 Rogers Bros” which is a mark common to other utensils in our drawer.
Third – discovery: This is the interesting and dangerously distracting part… In searching, I pulled out two other, more ornate serving spoons. I identified one pattern as Old Colony, 1911, also from 1847 Rogers – but I cannot place the third design. This one is extremely elaborate with lots of scrolls and intertwined elements that run down the stem to the bowl. It almost looks as if an ear of corn or cluster of grapes is represented in the metalwork.
Fourth – inspiration: Now take what you have seen, learned, and imagined and turn it into possible plot lines. Let the story go where it ‘wants.’ If it holds up as a blurb, chances are it can be developed. Let your mind wander. For example…
POSSIBLE PLOT: There could be child’s book or an historic fiction novel about “The Lost Pattern” – the story of a silversmith apprentice who created a concept so elaborate and wonderful, that he wanted to keep it to himself. Every night, when the factory was closed, he would sneak in and produce one utensil at a time, working from scrap that was going to be discarded. Overlooked because of his age and lack of experience, it wasn’t until the factory was commissioned by visiting royalty to create a place setting that he quietly stepped forward. The rest is history – as he joins the royal family for a remarkable adventure abroad.
POSSIBLE PLOT: Another plot line might be around the journey of a spoon as it moves across the country from an east coast city to a sod house on the plains… a story that explores migratory routes of settlers and ties together the women in a family who used the spoon to feed their loved ones and nurse them in times of illness. Perhaps the spoon is all that’s left when a prairie fire forces the pioneering family from their land…perhaps it become a simple object used in barter to rebuild their lives.
POSSIBLE PLOT: Then there is the ubiquitous hotel setting which, as we know from modern movies and TV shows, is an inviting stage for colorful characters. Perhaps the spoon was used to serve an official of state and in an assassination attempt, was flung behind a table and wedged into the molding of a grand ballroom. Lost until a renovation crew discovers it decades later, the spoon becomes a critical clue. Dented by a ricocheting bullet, the spoon could prove whether another shooter existed or another shot was fired… an outcome that could change history.
POSSIBLE PLOT: But let’s not forget the love story… two simple place settings were purchased as a dowry for a daughter in 1892, by a young mother quietly fighting the repression of the Victorian Age. Wanting her daughter to grow up and experience all the joys of womanhood, the silverware was set aside until the daughter fell in love, right before World War I broke out. With her fiancé called to arms and separated by an ocean, the daughter waited three years for her lover to return – while the spoon took an entirely different trip all its own. Reunited after the war, the couple finally found the spoon in a most unlikely location where it became a symbol of hope and endurance.
Wow – now I have 4 great plots to ponder! Happy writing to all.