Fiction Writing Exercise: The Lamp


The lamp lived by her bedside. It lit the dark nights with a lavender glow. It was like jewelry for the eyes, and gave the curious sense of wearing sunglasses in the dark. Or glasses that created sun. It was clean. That’s why she placed it in this space. It was clean and the light was warm, but in daylight it felt stark. Like it was only pretending to be pretty. It was too much like her and she hated it. There was a reason she smashed mirrors with abandon, and it wasn’t that age-old excuse of materials for her mixed-media art projects.

If the lamp hadn’t been a gift from her husband whom she adored despite (and partially because of) his frequent mishandling of her desires, she would have parted with it long ago. Maybe grabbed it by its dark cord and ripped it to the floor, letting her vacuum cleaner eat up the lesser shards. She might have thrown it in a bonfire instead of placing it lovingly on a cherry nightstand and reading by it well into the early morning hours. Truthfully, she did love it in a way. It was a token of affection. Well-meant, but it was not the feminine Tiffany lamp she’d hinted after. Its colors were all wrong for this space.

More than once she had imagined it into a new home. Perhaps in the living room of any elderly lady with OCD where it could be dusted constantly and keep the company of plastic-coated furnishings. She tried to reckon it away with wishful thinking, even considered selling it once and putting them money into chocolate, lying to her husband that it had shattered while he worked. In less generous periods, she considered trading it for the one she actually wanted and planting a kiss on her burly man’s head with a caustic “Thank you. You always get the right thing.” But she kept it anyway. She held on. One day, maybe, there would be a fire. One day that lamp would disappear.


This flash piece resulted from an in-class writing exercise I did with some of my students. I wrote it and laughed while reading it because it had taken me in such an unexpected direction. Yes, the lamp was ugly, but the level of loathing my character feels for it was out of left field.

Generally, I give prompts before I share results, but this was a very simple observation exercise. When I’ve done this, though, I find some writers inhabit the object. Some describe it in meticulous detail, imagining how it’s environment has changed. Some feed its details into the experience of a character as I did above. Interesting, right?

Anyway, now that you’ve read a result, here is the prompt:

  1. Find a place to write. Once settled, look around for an object to focus on. Record as many details as you can in 10 minutes.
  2. Create a story around the object. Why is it there? What is it for? Who put it where it is? Did it grow, was is lost, is is of great or little value? For 20minutes, explore the circumstances of the item as you imagine them.

I would love to see your responses to this prompt, even if you only take five minutes to dash off a few lines after reading it. Please post it in the comments with a link back to your site!

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

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