Improve your writing. Let objects hold emotion.
Meaning to objects
Recently, I heard Boston Poet Charles Coe share a riveting story about his sister’s difficult hospitalization. In the story, he uses food to unlock childhood memories. After hearing that his sister is in the hospital, and is probably going to die, Charles eats Kentucky Fried Chicken.
It’s a dish he hasn’t had in about 20 years. He loved KFC as a child and often ate it with his sister.
This time, however, it’s tasteless. There’s no flavor to it. Reading between the lines, it’s easy to see he’s become numb to everything, even his favorite childhood food.
Through this, I realized an important lesson about narrative: Human emotion is contained in objects because we categorize experiences in physical items.
As a child, I remember summertime as the laces on a baseball; cheap plastic sleds tell about winter; wax paper, used to iron leaves, with fall; ratty shoes with spring because they tracked mud into the living room.
See how that works?
All of those items unlock recessed memories. That’s what Charles did with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Through it, he vividly relates a deeply personal experience with his readers.
Ordinary objects can do the same thing
It’s also possible to ascribe deep meaning to an object that doesn’t necessarily have strong memories tied to it.
Later in his story, Charles describes taking a cab to the hospital. At the emergency room doors, he talks with the driver about a difficult time the driver’s going through with his child. Before departing, Charles gives money to the driver with which to buy his child ice cream.
Ice cream is sweet, but it’s not powerful.
However, it becomes emotionally charged given the context (talking about the cab driver’s child, because of his sister). Charles understands rhetorical connection.
In this, I learned that ordinary items can also hold tremendous much power.
It’s true in news reporting as well, I realized.
For example, focusing on flowers near the site of a tragic fire can tell a huge story in a few words. So can noticing stray hairs in the room of someone battling cancer.
Emotion is best related through specific details. And it takes an observant writer to first notice them, and second, connect abstract concepts to them.