So, I’m in the process of moving into my own place, a new place, a place in need of your used kitchen appliances and unwanted Tupperware. You know, the kinds of things that a guy moving into his own apartment doesn’t necessarily have in his back pocket (not that anyone has these things in their back pocket, because..that’s just…a blender? In your back pocket? That’s just…that would be extremely uncomfortable..and impractical…and potentially impossible. Enough! Figurative back pocket blenders! Ah, that’s better).
But don’t get me wrong, this is not a cry for your cast off, cast iron cooking skillet (but if you’re offering…). No, this is a blog about what an incredibly rich land of story potential and creative opportunity flea markets, auctions, and yard sales are. You see, in my pursuit of outfitting my new place, a place we shall henceforth refer to as THE DEATH STAR! No…..MORDOR!! No…the TARDIS? No….a place we shall henceforth refer to as “Joe’s Place” or “The House of Joe” and occasionally as “the Magnificent Joe Empire” I have been visiting markets and yard sales and such. Those places are absolutely awesome for writers to wander through!! I’ve taken to calling my market treks as “treasure hunting expeditions” because of what you find within and how it relates to writing. So here are my four main points for why flea markets and yard sales are treasure troves waiting for the intrepid writer:
1. Objects as potential stories: You never know WHAT you are going to find while wandering through the market. What’s that old adage? One person’s trash is another person‘s treasure? There are so many interesting objects just crying out to spark the catalyst of a story. In fact, I once wrote an entire short story about a monkey skull I’d seen at a yard sale! Yes, there was a…no, I don’t know why…no, I did not buy the monkey skull. But wander through, see what grabs your attention and then think about why it did. Was it odd? Scary? Funny? Unique? Start asking yourself questions, ask “what if,” let your imagination start creating a history behind the object. For example, what’s the deal with this creepy doll head I saw? Who did it belong to? Why is it smiling (what does it know that we don’t)? Where’s the rest of the doll? What might that doll have seen? Or take this set of samurai swords. They belonged to the seller’s deceased brother. My mind starts going into weird places, like, was his brother slain in battle? Fighting ninjas? Monsters? Monstrous ninjas? Was his brother deceased when he took up the swords? Was he a zombie samurai!? Or maybe they were a family heirloom. Maybe his family served the Shogun of Japan. Maybe those were the Shogun’s swords! Maybe his brother was a crime fighter, or a time traveller, or a thief who had taken them from the home of the descendants of a famous samurai and now they were going to come looking for the swords and they were going to break into “The House of Joe” to get them (because that’s where they’re going) and I’d have to fight them off with the cast iron skillet that I don’t have!
2. Objects as character items: So, you’re trying to get into your character a little more, trying to really understand their personality, make them deeper, more believable. What kinds of objects might they put in their home, or what kinds of objects define them? You can tell a lot about a person by the things he/she might surround themselves with. Maybe Jimbo, your trailer-living private eye and off-season game warden, needs himself a new lamp. Maybe he just won himself a few bucks on a scratch off lottery ticket and he’s got his eyes all set on a new lamp. The kind of lamp the fellas are gonna be jealous of when they come by for bean dip and poker. You know the one, that deer hoof lamp on display in the window at Marshall’s Department Store. Take a walk through the market, see if you can find something that has your character’s name all over it.
3. Object histories as stories: Sometimes you find stories behind the object itself. These are sometimes touching, sometimes beautiful, sometimes remarkable, sad, or scary. Part of the fun of treasure hunting through the markets is talking to the sellers and finding out what they’re selling, and why, and where it came from. Sometimes the stories stand on their own, or sometimes they’re ripe to be tweaked, twisted, and elaborated on. Like my new Hemingway-esque trunk/coffee table…this was hand-carved in Italy. An American soldier bought it while stationed overseas. After he passed away, his belongings were collected and placed into a storage unit. The seller bought the unit and everything that came with it, to include papers and letters…letters to a son he’d had with a woman from overseas, a son he’d never spoken to. Stories, people…they’re all around us.
4. Objects spark description: You’ve got this creepy neighbor character that happens to dress up as a clown and do kids’ birthday parties, but you’re not quite sure what kind of clown look you want. Sure, you could Google clown pics and surf the web, or you could get out, get some fresh air, and find that almost every market happens to have at least one person selling a creepy clown picture. Bam! Reference material, fresh air, and the creeps! Really, why are there so many clown paintings? And who hangs these things in their house?
So there you have it, four reasons why flea markets and yard sales are so great for writers. Go on, get out there, feed your creativity…and who knows, maybe you’ll come home with a story idea AND a deer hoof lamp (NO, I did NOT buy the deer hoof lamp).
Happy writing, friends!