Challenges Accepted

Challenge from "It was a dark and stormy night" post, 8/1/13

 In my post about setting, I set a challenge to write a scene three times, each one in a different weather or time of day. So here is my scene, written on a sunny day, then again on a rainy day, then again on a clear night. Each scene involves the same characters, John and Sally, and each scene carries the same purpose, to let the two meet and to get John to ask Sally out.

However, as you'll see, the different settings can have a drastic effect on how the scene plays out. I still manage to accomplish all the goals in each scene, but because of the setting, they happen in very different ways:

Sunny Day:

John relaxed on the park bench reading his book as he munched on a half-eaten Subway sandwich. The glare from the sun made it difficult to read the pages, but the warmth was nice, and he always ate his lunch at the park no matter the weather, so John managed as best he could. 

He caught the sound of a dog collar jingling followed by a heavy panting, but thought nothing of it as people ran with their dogs through the park quite regularly. A moment later his had was engulfed in a warm, wet slobber. He snatched his hand away while simultaneously looking up from his book. A large golden retriever was happily snarfing down the last of John’s sandwich.

“Oh, I’m so sorry!” A woman said, running up to grab the dog by the collar while John wiped his dripping hand off on his jeans. She noticed the empty sandwich wrapper on the bench beside John, then his cleaning motions and said, “Oh, did she eat your…”

John nodded slowly, pursing his lips. He wasn’t upset, not really, but he didn’t want to just shrug it off either. People need to learn to control their animals.

The woman proceeded to scold the dog, “Goldie, no! That’s a bad dog! You ate this poor man’s lunch.”

Goldie barked in reply, panting happily.

“I’m so sorry,” the woman said again. She was tall and lean, and dressed in a running suit. Her red hair was pulled up in a ponytail and matched the color of the freckles on her cheeks.  “Let me buy you another sandwich,” she said, but John waved the idea away.

“It’s all right, I was pretty much done anyway,” he lied. She was pretty. This could be a very good opportunity. His eyes darted to her left hand. No ring, and no thin tan line from a missing ring.

“Well, let me at least pay for it then,” she said, pulling out a money clip from her waistband.

“No, really, it’s fine.”

She stopped and looked at him, her eyes a bright green that seemed to shine like the sun. “No, it’s not fine.  Let me make it up to you.”

John chuckled, and nodded his head. “All, right, um…” he motioned to her.

“Sally,” she said.

“All right, Sally. I’m John. Tell you what. How about you let me take to dinner tonight?” John mustered his winningest smile.

Sally eyed him for a minute before saying, “I don’t see how that helps when I’m indebted to you.”

“The privilege of your company would repay any debt,” John said, withholding a wince at the words that had just escaped his mouth.

Sally cocked an eyebrow. “Handsome and cheesy. How can I refuse?”

John’s smile broadened. “Pick you up at eight?”

Sally agreed and quickly entered her number into his phone.

“One more thing,” he said as she prepared to jog away. He reached out and ruffled the retriever’s head. “Goldie gets to have a night in.”

Rainy Day:

John pulled the collar of his raincoat up higher to shelter his neck from the beating wind. Rain dumped around him like it was Noah’s flood. The umbrella deflected most of the downpour, though gusts of wind occasionally brought it in from the sides. John didn’t mind the weather, though he did try to keep his book dry as he read.

Glancing around, John realized he was the only one in the park. No one wanted to be out in the open on a day like this. But John always ate his lunch in the park, not matter the weather. He turned back to his book.

Over the splatter of raindrops John heard a dog bark. He looked up to find a soggy golden retriever running his way, a sopping woman in a running suit chasing after it. John gave a whistle and held out a hand, drawing the dog’s attention. It gave another bark and dashed over to him. A moment later, the woman caught up.

“Thank you so much,” the woman said, latching on to the dog’s collar. “Goldie, that’s a bad girl.” She looked back at John, rainwater running from her red hair down her freckled face.

“Pretty wet day to be out for a run,” John commented.

The woman grinned sheepishly. “It wasn’t raining when we started. This came out of nowhere. And of course I forgot my umbrella.”

John held his a little higher, offering her room beside him on the bench. She looked surprised for a moment, but then smiled again and sat beside him. “Thank you.”

“I’m John,” he said tilting the umbrella to cover more of her than him.

“Sally,” she replied.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” John said, “and Goldie.” He reached out and tousled the dog's drenched fur. Goldie did not seem to mind the rain.

John looked back and Sally. Sitting so close, he could now see the green flecks of her eyes. They were stunning. A quick glance told him there was no ring on her left hand, so he remarked about her eyes.

“Thank you again,” she said looking away.

“Look, I know this is kind of awkward,” John began. “And you’re soaked, and I’m getting more soaked by the minute. But, can I take you someplace warm and dry tonight? Dinner, perhaps?”

“I—” she started, then hesitated. She looked deep into his eyes, and he into hers. “All right,” she said finally.

“Pick you up at eight?”

She nodded and gave him her phone number.

“But you promise, someplace dry,” she said as she stood.

“Not so much as a fish tank,” he replied.

She laughed and headed on her way. John sat back and watched her go, not even caring that she’d taken the umbrella with her.

Clear, dark night: 
John squinted at the words of his book trying to keep the shadow of his head from blocking the light from the lamp post behind him. Reading by lamplight in the park in the middle of the night wasn’t the best idea; in fact, he’d heard such low light could make his eyes strain too much and damage his retinas so he would need reading glasses later in life. But at that moment, he didn’t care.

It was a beautiful night, the sky clear, the stars shining, a crescent moon glowing above the towering oak trees of the park. There wouldn’t be many nights like this left before autumn set in and John wanted to enjoy it while he could.

At such a late hour the park was all but deserted, most people home and snug in bed. John was a night owl. He worked from home, and thus set his own hours. He preferred the graveyard shift and would come out to the park to eat his lunch.

A dog barking caught his attention and John quickly located a dark form darting across the grass not far from him. His first thought was mongrel, a stray who would likely attack him as just run on by. But a moment later he caught sight of a tall figure, a woman from her flopping ponytail, chasing after the animal.

John gave a loud whistle drawing the dog’s attention. It angled and raced right to him. John held out a hand and the dog, a golden retriever he could see now in the lamplight, licked his palm incessantly. A moment later, the woman caught up.

She stopped a few feet away, the lamp casting her in vague, gray shadows. John could see she was tall and lean, dressed in a running suit, but couldn’t make out much more than that.

“Goldie!” she called from where she stood. “Come here, girl!”

John tried to push the dog away, but she continued licking, probably tasting the remnants of the Subway sandwich John had eaten for his lunch.

“Come on, Goldie!” the woman called again.

“She likes the ham juices,” John said, giving a light laugh. She smiled, but didn’t move any closer. It was obvious she didn’t trust a strange man in the park at night. And she was right not to. Not that John meant her any harm, but you never could tell these days.

“Go on, Goldie,” John said pulling one hand from her tongue as he tried to push the dog away with the other. “Go on, go get her.”

The woman finally threw up her arms with a sigh, then marched over and latched onto Goldie’s collar. “Thanks,” she muttered, then to Goldie said, “Stupid dog, come on.”

In the light John finally got a good look at the woman. Her ponytail was comprised of thick, red hair that matched the freckles on her wide cheeks. She had a thin smile and green eyes that danced brightly in the dim light from the lamp. Perhaps it was a trick of waning moonlight, but John had never seen such a beautiful woman before.

She tugged Goldie away from John and started on her way.

“Wait,” John called. She looked back over her shoulder, but continued walking, one hand tucking into the pocket of her running suit.

John held up his hands. “I’m not going to do anything. I just want to talk for a sec.”

She stopped and turned to regard him.

John took a deep breath and said, “Look, I know this is bad timing. And you should be on your way. But I just wanted you to know I’ll be sitting right here tomorrow at noon. I’d like to see you again, you know… in the day light… with others around, if you’d like.”

She raised an eyebrow at him, but didn’t leave, so he continued.

“I’m not trying to be a creep or anything, I just want to talk. Maybe we can have lunch or something.”

A smile tugged at the corner of her thin mouth. “Maybe,” was all she said. Then she turned to leave.

“Wait!” John called. “Can I at least get your name?”

“Sally!” she cried over her shoulder as she and Goldie blended into the darkness.

See? Very different scenes due to very different settings. Especially the night scene. When I started writing it, it occurred to me that no single woman out at night, dog or no dog, would just start talking to a strange guy in the park. No smart woman anyway. So there was no way John was going to get to ask her out. But that was the whole point of the scene, so I had to find a way for him to get a second chance with her, to give him the opportunity to ask her out more formally.

So when writing a scene, you really have to spend a lot of time deciding what the perfect setting for that scene will be. And even when you think you know, think the scene through in a few other settings as well, just to see if something more interesting could occur. Personally, I think the night scene is the most interesting of the three. It's the most dangerous and the most challenging and it teaches us a lot about who John and Sally are.

So write your scene, and find the most interesting setting you can for it. It'll make your story that much stronger.


It's been a while since my last post, but I am here finally with my prompted writing. This scene is based on the writing prompt from the post, "Writing Action and the Betrothed Daughter of a King." The prompt was to write an action scene that made the sport Curling interesting. Here's my shot at it:

Contact Curling 
Bergys watched as Morella lined up her throw. Tensions were high in the arena as a crowd of over a hundred thousand people watched from the stands at the Multinational Contact Curling Championships. This would be the eighth and final throw for this game and Bergys’ team, Team Canada, was down by a point. This would have to be a very accurate throw defended well by the blockers, Bergys and his companion, Allin. Eying the other teams preparing their shots around the rink, Bergys knew this was going to a tough round.
Cathy, the team’s skip, was at the far end of the house, lining up the shot with Morella. Bergys watched her nod to Morella, then signal to the referee that they were ready. After receiving ready signals from the other five teams, the referee blew the whistle and the round began.
Morella lunged out from her perch against the hack, leaning forward with the curling stone, a thick granite disk with a red handle attached to its top, grasped tightly in her right hand. Together, thrower and stone slid along the ice toward the hog line—the point where Morella would have to let go of the stone. Bergys, Allin, and the two sweepers, Dana and Martin, all slid alongside Morella, each preparing to jump into action.
Just before the pack reached the hog line, Morella twisted her wrist, giving the stone a very slight clockwise spin, and let go. Immediately Dana and Martin jumped ahead of the stone, flanking it, and began to furiously scrub at the ice with their long-handled brooms just in front of the stone as they slid backward down the sheet. The friction from their brooms would scrape the ice smooth, allowing the stone to slide farther and faster along. Beyond them, Allin took point, skating along on his Teflon coated shoes, ready to take out any advanced assault from the other teams. Bergys followed directly behind the stone, the final defense against any wreckers.
As he slid along, Bergys turned his attention from the stone—he only needed to see it enough to know when he was too close—to the other teams racing down the ice toward the target in the center, or house. Like his team, the others had four members moving along with their stones, two sweepers, a wrecker, and a blocker.
Bergys eyed the Americans to his left. They were an aggressive team and he expected their wrecker to break away at any moment. To his right, however, the Latvians made the first move. Their wrecker, a towering man with at least ninety kilos of weight behind him, broke away from their pack suddenly and charged the Canadians. His targets were the sweepers, but neither Bergys nor Allin intended to let him at them. Following his role, Allin tore away from the Canadian pack and moved to block the Latvian.
The two men collided moments later, Allin ducking low at the last second to cut the legs out from the Latvian. In turn, the Latvian leapt high hoping to clear Allin’s cut, which he failed to do. With the Latvian tumbling over him, Allin stood and twisted suddenly to complete the dump, leaving the Latvian sliding across the ice at an angle away from the Canadian pack. According to regulations, the Latvian would have to remain down for a count of sixty administered by a sideline ref.
A shout from Cathy brought Bergys’s attention around just in time to see the American wrecker closing in. Bergy’s cursed his lapse in vigilance and he threw himself forward in a cross check of the American just before the man, smaller than Bergys by only a few kilos, slammed into Dana. Too focused on tackling Dana, the American was not prepared for the impact of Bergys and was thrown forward violently, skidding out of control toward the house. If he didn’t regain his traction before reaching the house, he was likely to impact several stones already populating the large red and blue target. Were that to happen, his team would be severely penalized.
Learning from his earlier mistake, Bergys brought his eyes up to scan the rink. Several players were down from assaults, and the Greek stone was veering off at a wide angle, probably bumped as one of the sweepers had been taken out. Their remaining sweeper was frantically grinding the broom to one side of the stone’s course hoping to steer the stone back toward the house, but the new trajectory was so severe that Bergy’s knew it was all but impossible.
Taking advantage of their member shortage, Allin was now charging the Latvian pack. The Latvians’ ear blocker was edging around the outside sweeper to prepare for Allin’s assault. Allin sped toward them and, just before slamming into the Blocker, feigned to one side, then dove at the entire group. Thrown off by the feint, the blocker was not in a position to defend the sweepers and Allin managed to take both of them down in one move. All three curlers, Allin and the two Latvian sweepers spun away in a congealed mass of bodies as the Latvians’ stone sailed down the sheet alone. With no sweepers, the stone began to lose momentum right away, the Latvian blocker helpless to aid it.
Bergy’s noticed that the pack was nearing the house. Within the rings of house there were several stones already, each varied in handle color by the team it represented. There were two red handled stones for the Canadians, a few for the Americans, one each for the British, Latvians, and Greeks. Only Germany had no stones in the house at the beginning of this last round.
Cathy’s frantic voice rang out suddenly, shouting, “Up!” and the two sweepers pulled their brooms from the ice. Bergys frowned at the call. The stone was still a ways from the house, pulling up now would begin its deceleration far too early in his opinion. But, Cathy was the skip. What she ordered, the others followed. With the sweepers out of the way, Bergys straddled the spinning stone and prepared for the chaos ahead.
Unimpeded, the Germans reached the house first, their sweepers only pulling up at the last second before their black-handled stone slammed into the blue-handled stone of the Greeks. The Greeks’ stone ricocheted into a white-handled American stone and the two slid apart, each clearing the outer ring of the house and thereby being eliminated from play.
The German Wrecker lunged suddenly at the British, hoping to take out their Blocker in such a way that the Blocker would accidently nudge, or burn, his own stone as he went down. The Brit took the impact and rolled with it, pulling the German down with him, but moving away from their stone, which slammed into one of the Canadian stones a second later. Luckily for Bergys and his team, the red-handled stone ricocheted into the still sliding German stone knocking it away and coming to rest closer to the center than it was to begin with.
The American’s stone slid into the house next. It had lost momentum since the sweepers had let up, but still had enough speed to impact the Canadian stone in the center. The moment the two stones collided, there was an instant, blinding flash of light and flame, and for Bergys and everyone else in the arena, the world ended.
Investigators would never find out who rigged the American’s last stone with the bomb that was large enough to destroy a city block.

Wait, what?? Yes, I absolutely admit it. I copped out of this story. The problem is, I wrote the first 1200 words of this story in one sitting a week ago, then, thanks to work and other life obligations, didn't get back to it until today, and realized that I had no interest whatsoever in finishing it. I guess I can't make Curling interesting, even as a full contact sport.

Now, maybe some of you were intrigued by the story, or at least curious enough to know how it would end. Now you're feeling betrayed and disappointed, and rightly so. I want to use this as a lesson in what NOT to do. Your readers are counting on you to supply a satisfying conclusion to your story. By taking the easy way out, whether it be in a scene, a short story, or an entire novel, you rob them of that satisfaction and will quickly drive your readers away. (For the record, I hope this disappointing prompt doesn't drive any of you away...)

If you find yourself stuck on a story, or painted into a corner you don't know how to get out from, you need to either retrace your steps until you find where the story took a wrong turn, or have an outside source, maybe an Alpha reader, go through it and tell you where they thought the story went off track. Perhaps they can give you some insights on how to get out of your hole. Either way, don't ever take the easy way out. It is never satisfying. Just look at the second and third Matrix movies. Both movies delved deep into the philosophy of the Matrix world, but then it seems the writers couldn't find a way out of their own questions and simply wrote a huge action scene to save Zion and called it good, with almost no answers to the philosophical questions they started with. And the movies were a huge disappointment.

I haven't received any submission for others attempts at this prompt, but I would like to see what any of you came up with. Feel free to try your hand at this and paste it in the comments.

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