The Story Behind the Story: A Trip to the Museum

A Trip to the Museum was written in response to a prompt given by the writer Lee K. Abbott at the Kenyon Review Writers Conference. The class visited the museum and used that as a springboard for a story. The details of the exhibit are true to what was on display that day. The exploration into the character Alan started with my own response to the wonderfully rendered but ultimately sterile nature of the exhibit. My first draft was just a shadow of the idea of how fear and alienation might make someone behave in ways they might otherwise not behave. On subsequent drafts I made an emotional deep dive into Alan’s mind to discover lines like:

He turned to see a telescope, camera, microscope, all rendered in wood. He tried to imagine wooden stars on a canvas background, wooden still pics like the Polaroids of old, wooden microbes. He thought of an old photo of him and Cindy. They were newlyweds. She was sitting on his lap, her red mini-skirt riding up her skinny thighs.

I worked to connect the details of the exhibit to Alan’s emotional struggles. I contrasted sensory details like his memories of the smell of the barn with the lack of wood smell when he sniffs one of the exhibits. My goal was to put the reader as deeply into Alan’s experience as possible. It look time and multiple drafts.

I left the ending with some ambiguity in hopes of capturing the complexity of human experience. I hope the readers are left with a feeling of sadness and disconnection that mirrors Alan’s feelings.

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About Ellen Birkett Morris

Ellen Birkett Morris's fiction has appeared in Shenandoah, Antioch Review, Notre Dame Review, South Carolina Review, and Santa Fe Literary Review, among other journals. She is the 2015 winner of the Bevel Summers Prize for her story “May Apples.” Her story "Like I Miss Being a Ballerina” was selected as an honorable mention in the Glimmer Train Press Family Matters short story competition. “Lincoln, Maw and Shorty” received an honorable mention in the Saturday Evening Post fiction contest. Morris is a recipient of a 2013 Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council in support of her fiction. She teaches at The Loft Literary Center and is on the faculty of the 2018 Antioch Writers Summer Workshop. Morris has an MFA from Queens University-Charlotte.