Tag Archives: Writing Exercises

Swamp Rats (an exercise in setting)

A scene: Setting Building (An exercise):

 

It was a hot Louisiana night fresh from the swamps, stagnant as a dead stream and as lively as a bed of ‘skeeters singling in on the trail of a blood feast. The two figures in their tiny boat sat as silent as the night would let them be, their eyes communicating all their fears back and forth like a saggy slow ping pong ball.

“Listen now,” the one man said to the other, “you hear that?”

Their ears seemed to wiggle as they both leaned over the edge of the boat and studied the cricket ridden breath of the night. There was life all around them, and yet there seemed to be absolutely nothing but competing shades of darkness and silence on all sides of them. Somewhere, through the thick heavy tones of the steamy night there was one thing, just one thing, it could have been caused by any number of things. One ugly loud commanding thing.

“Goddammit Joe, how’d he find us?” the other man said, his voice ribbetted high then low bobbing his Adams apple as he threatened the sturdiness of the boat.

“Don’t know it’s him,” the other said. His eyes bugged out in fright no matter his words.

Another stick broke.

“Just row Stevie, row!” Joe said, looking half ready to leap in the dark abysmal unknowns of the swamp and run for his life.

“I ain’t the kind of man you be bossing about now,” Stevie said, and yet he was readying the oars and paddling hard. Somewhere in the inky black depths of the night one lone hound warbled out its lonesome call, and the two men in the boat trudged down the waterway as fast and stealthily as they could summon.


Old man at the Bar (Exercise)

Exercise:

Use a place with a group of people to observe. Write a single scene inspired by this group. Bring them to life, and imagine out the details.

 

Old man at the Bar

He stood in the corner of the room, blanketed in equal measures of shadow and mystery. His ball cap hid an old fat pair of fluffy black headphones from easy view. In one hand he held a mug bigger than his knobbed and worn down hand looked able to hold. In his other hand he held a nearly empty pitcher of cheap yellow beer with all the foam threatening to dry up. He stood statue still, transfixed perhaps by all the youth that surrounded him.

The birthday girls and soon to be bride walked by him with a wrinkled nose. It wasn’t clear if they did this because of a smell they both detected coming off the man—he didn’t look very clean despite his perfectly ironed clothing, all bright and free from visible dirt or stain. They giggled to each other and darted furtive glances back at the odd man, saying all they needed about how highly they valued his worth as a person from their damning cold glances.

The man by the jukebox didn’t seem to mind. His eyes rolled about in a slow methodical way. Each young face fell under his ancient gaze at least once or twice as his hands went about the busy work of refilling his mug. The statue still persona of the old man broke up for a few good drinks of his warming beer. Beer fuzz stuck to his chin and upper lip before popping away, leaving only a thin line of drool behind as testament to their existence. His eyes remained ever watchful. The young people that surrounded him on all sides hummed with a bee like electricity, charged up and primed, and giving off a sneaky aura of threat as though they were always ready to sting and hurt.

Three rowdy looking young men came in the door of the bar, talking loudly about all the wonders of their young and ignorant lives. The odd man lowered his mug and let his eyes roll to them. He sized them up and in his fastest move yet, he looked away. His head followed his eyes and with more speed than one could guess the old man capable of pulling off, he walked with rat like worry and speed to the opposite side of the bar, far away from where he had been, and even farther from the door and the young men walking in.

He was just in time leaving too. The three young men who had came in didn’t bother with ordering their brew first—their smell and loud way of carrying themselves suggested they’d already had their share and more. The young men headed straight for the jukebox and fumbled with change along the way. The clang of coins on solid oak floorboards was barely detectable, but two eyes followed the glint of light each fat quarter and paper thin dime caught as they fell to the floor. Each coin reminded the old man of shooting stars, and wishes that had never bothered coming true.

Loud songs came out of the jukebox not long after the young men made their selections and headed to the long skinny bar. They walked up, tried to out order each other, as if the liquor they ordered gave proof to their being more manly than the other. Old eyes watched them from the corner, sizing them up, putting each careful tick of their drunken idiot movement away to some special part of a long and well worn memory.

The music became deafening, screaming out ugly anthems of new generations and the old man found his own headphones almost inadequate to compete with it. He twirled the dial on his old walkman and cranked good old Hank Williams as high as he could. The old man grinned a little possum grin as he found himself slipping away to a long ago youth he himself once had, and a girl with blue eyes and the prettiest blonde locks he’d ever seen. They’d danced often to this very tune, using the loneliness of the music as justification to cling tighter than ever to one another. But summers pass away, and golden locks turn gray, blue eyes dim to ugly ashen familiarity and they too soon vanish from the earth. The old man’s grin slipped off his face, giving birth instead to a slight tremor in one hand a big plop of tear down one cheek.

He made one fatal error. He closed his eyes and lowered his guard. Just one moment is all it took. But in life, chaos only requires a single unwatched moment to slip in and bring hell with it.


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