Scrivener’s Forge 5 – Character and World Building

I would like to thank Neil MacDonald arranging these monthly writing exercises. I am grateful for the opportunity to focus on difference skills required for writing a good story. If you would like more information on the exercises please check out Neil’s post by clicking HERE.

This month’s challenge is as follows –


An exercise from John Gardener. Write a scene which places a character in a specific location. Use the interaction between character and description to show us a unique world we’ve never seen before and that will never exist again.  A man whose son has died in the war is looking at a building. Describe the building without mentioning the war, the son, or his death.

Hint: if you’re finding this hard to approach, consider why a character in this situation might even notice a building.

Here is my scene –

Henry sat, unable to move. The inside of his car flooded with alternating colors from the flashing signs. Blue, yellow, red. Blue, yellow, red. His heart and Budweiser beat in time. It had been twenty-five years since he had entered one of these stores but he knew every square inch by heart. The row upon row of bottles beckoned him as he peered between the posters that plastered the windows. His hands shook. Henry jerked forward and started his car and just as quickly turned it off. He removed the keys from the ignition. Blue, yellow, red. Blue, yellow, red. Henry stepped out leaning against the door jamb collecting his shattered nerves before closing the door and heading back in time.

The harsh glare of the fluorescent lights made the glass bottles twinkle a quiet invitation, pick me, pick me. He willed himself to walk past the stacks of cheap booze with handwritten signs piled in the aisle, remembering the burning turpentine taste. Henry moved quickly past the gin and the vodka, ignoring the aisles and aisles of wine. He knew what he wanted and knew that the whiskey was near the back of the store. His feet beat in unsteady staccato rhythm on the polished tile floor. He was aware that his every move was being recorded. If the bored clerk bothered to look up from his magazine and glance at his grainy monitor, he would see a middle-aged man, battered by time, wearing an expensive but disheveled suit. A man overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of choices, searching the shelves for a special bottle, something used for a celebration, maybe for consolation. Neither the cameras nor the clerk would see a man breaking a solemn promise made twenty-five years ago, a man about to take a careening bobsled ride back into hell. Henry reached to snatch a bottle of Jack Daniels off the shelf, its amber liquid offering promises of comfort. The bottle slipped from his from his trembling fingers and shattered at his feet. He whimpered at the sight. Shocked back to his harsh reality, Henry pivoted on his heels. He threw $40.00 at the startled clerk as he scurried to the shelter of his car.

Thanks for reading. All comments, hints, pointers, critiques are appreciated.

If you would like to read more submissions click HERE.




2 thoughts on “Scrivener’s Forge 5 – Character and World Building

  1. Yes, I think that met the challenge. We see the liquor store and we know why Henry sees it. Of course we don’t see what Henry feels about the war and his son’s death because he’s out to drown his sorrows. But we know he’s feeling bad, very bad, or he wouldn’t be falling off the wagon after 25 years. If there’s a problem with the piece, it’s that we don’t know any more at the end than we did at the beginning. We know from the start what he’s wrestling with. And that, of course, raises the question about why the reader would be motivated to read on.


  2. Thanks for your insightful comment. I understand what you’re saying but I am unsure of what I would change following the rules not to mention the war, and his son’s death.


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