You might be thinking to yourself: but all the good artifacts have been taken. There’s nothing left to use!
The internet presents us with new forms every day. Not only are the possibilities of form endless, but the means with which we can create stories that actually look and feel like the things they are aping is so exciting.
See Dinty Moore’s “Mr. Plimpton’s Revenge”, published on Google Maps and please just allow yourself to experience this wonder. Let that wonder send you into the internet, searching for possibilities.
Write something using an artifact-form found on the internet. If you’re drawn to an idea someone has used before (Powerpoint, Twitter thread, Google Map), don’t be afraid to explore your take on it. But if you want to dredge up something we haven’t seen before, I feel confident that with some digging you can do it.
Remember that titles can do wonders for establishing your concept. One of my favorite pieces I read last year is this poem by Hana Widerman called “What My Mother Texts Me When I’m at School” (published in Washington Square). This poem lets the title do all the formal hand-holding: the lines of this poem should be read as texts from my mom. This is what I would call a light or standard artifact, but it works to create a rich reading experience I wouldn’t get by just reading the lines alone.
When you have something you’re ready to share, submit it below.
For this exercise, you’re going to find a piece of writing you’re stuck on, or that you have given up on. If you write fiction, the best direction might be to look for an old character–one who you remember who lives in an unfinished or broken story. An old premise or setting or plot point could work too, but a character might be easiest.
Let’s breathe some different life into this character by imagining an artifact from their life than might tell you something more about them. It could be something the character has written, or something that a different character has written about them.
I was stuck recently on a story in which a teenaged character is kicked out of a band. Then I remembered that when I was in high school, we kicked our first drummer out of the band by writing him a letter. We learned later that his dad was the one who actually saw the letter first (did we put it in his mailbox? We were cruel). So, I wrote out the letter that the band members gave to the main character. I didn’t end up using this letter verbatim in the story, but the existence of the letter helped me discover this amazingly weird scene where a concerned father has to explain to his son that he’s been kicked out of a band. The dad is translating for his son the letter, trying to soften it, explain it.
This is all to say that this approach to noticing, exploring, and using artifacts doesn’t have to amount to a story told in an artifact form. An artifact imagined can change the energy of a story. And I believe it helps to actually sit down and write the artifact.
So dig into your own archives (mentally or literally) and find a document/artifact that might help break open a stale story or abandoned character.
If you write poetry, take a troublesome poem and try to stuff it into a new form–a manual, a note left on a car windshield, a Nextdoor post–and see if it fits. Or better yet, see how much it doesn’t fit. And then see what comes out of that.
Essayists, I want you to actually go dig in the tub you keep of all your old paper crap. We all have one. Find a document that has the potential to tell part (or maybe all) of a story.
After working on your piece for Exercise 2 or Exercise 3, you may be asking yourself: Okay, this is fun and odd, but how do I make it work?