Writing Exercise: Describe something ten ways

An ancient tome

  1. The cracked leather binding, worn with age stood apart from the new canvas surrounding it. The embossed text was inlaid gold foil centered between pairs of ribbing along the spine.
  2. The library smelled of musty, old books, but the book I sought stood out like a beacon among rubble. Its red spine glowed in the light, the gold leaf lettering glittering like a long-lost treasure in a place where everything else was in shadow.
  3. The book lay there on the dark-stained table, its red leather cover flat against the sheen of the polished surface. It seemed to pulse with the energy of a thousand ghosts, all wanting to burst forth from the limits of the pages. He closed his eyes and shook his head—he must be seeing things—and the book looked like a normal, if ornate, bound volume.
  4. When Liliena reached out to touch the book, it sent sparks to her fingertips, electrifying her body. She hesitated, but rubbed the ribbed spine with her forefinger before pulling the book, ornately foiled with a design of a long snakelike creature with a ridge of spines on its back and with four feet. She almost dropped the book when the dragon—that’s what the scholars called it—seemed to breathe fire and wisps of smoke puffed out from the cover. What magic was bound to this book! There was only one way to find out. She found a nearby table and lit a ten-hour candle. This was bound to be a long night.
  5. Leon’s shoulder sagged under the weight of the pack. He shifted the strap to his other side. It didn’t help much. Why was this so heavy? It didn’t feel this heavy when he first packed the bag. He thought he smelled smoke. Was that possible? His back felt suddenly hot as the book inside the canvas pack burned through. The contents of the pack stayed in place, as if held in place by magic. The book, however, laid on the ground, the foil dragon pulsing and glowing. If Leon didn’t know better, he would have thought the dragon actually moved on the cover. Then a wisp of smoke rose from the dragon’s mouth. He was sure he didn’t imagine it. Smoke and heat from a book, but it didn’t burn. This needed to be hidden away in a dark place no one would ever find it. He knew just the place, but the way was dangerous.
  6. It was just one volume of many, stored in the head of Jiun. But it seared her from the inside. She had been born with the ability to store entire libraries in her memory for access later, but this book with the gold-inlaid red cover seemed to be burning away every book around it. She flailed in her mind, trying to pull it out—trying to discard the burning volume. Anyone who saw her would think she was concentrating in earnest. Just as Jiun’s internal library was about to burst in flames, she grabbed hold of the book and pushed it out of her mind. She felt a sharp pain in her eye and winced as a burst blood vessel spread across in a tight red firework. She was alive! But what had just happened? Maybe the witchdoctor, Eliin, knows, thought Jiun as she strode to his tent.
  7. Tome of agèd leather worn,
    Inside a page was ne’er torn.
    Gold serpent wrapp’d in scales
    Blood dripp’d from teeth and nails.
  8. The scrivener put the finishing touches on the first volume of his sacred tome of dragons. Right now, it was just a stack of folios, ready to be bound. He would send it off to the royal leatherworker to bind it and decorate the cover with gold leaf. He fell asleep. He dreamed he was a dragon, red and gold scales glittering in the high sun. His languid body whipped and curled like a banner caught in a gust of wind. He was free!
    ¶ Then something bizarre happened. He felt like he was dissolving into nothing. Then he realized his tail up to his back haunches had already disappeared.
    ¶ The scrivener started awake. He tried to feel his body, but he found he couldn’t move—he had become the cover of the book. This had been the warlock’s plan all along.
  9. The dark tomb was buried beneath thousands of years of rock and dirt, but the ancient tome of dragons called to anyone who would feel its pulse. Scholars called the high-reaching tower the Heart Stone because it seemed to have its own pulse that attracted the hearts of men and women from all across the world. There was nothing here but the monolithic tower—at least nothing that anybody could ever find—until Kaitlin came along.
  10. The fishermen pulled the net in, laden with fish and sea flora. Something caught Jamie’s eye: a red book that seems to shimmer with its own heat. He drew near it and saw the pages had not been damaged by the immersion in the sea. Strange, he thought. But then he remembered stories of some ancient books that scholars of old had hidden through the world. Their dangers had been long forgotten, and Jamie couldn’t remember what made this book so dangerous. How could it be? It was so lovely with the golden-scaled serpent appearing to writhe. Its eyes looked like red rubies set in the gilded gold face pressed into the leather that felt like soft skin. What was this book? He shrugged it off and tucked it under his arm to hide it, abandoning his work of harvesting fish. He didn’t hear his captain yell his name repeatedly as he stepped below deck.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears: a “grimdark” fantasy retelling – flash fiction challenge

A young woman blasted out onto the edge of the meadow at full speed, putting the Enchanted Forest behind her. She donned scratched (some of those scratches newly earned) leather armor and a leather cap that had a small hole on its top through which she pulled her yellow curls to make a golden crest. She held a long sword drawn from its plain scabbard at her waist, a bow and quiver of her straightest arrows slung around her shoulder. Blood trickled down her cheek, where Rumpelstiltskin had cut her. She had barely escaped worse.

She crouched, paused for a quick moment to catch her breath, but at the whisper of leaves rustling and twigs crackling underfoot, she sprang up and toward the cottage on the other side of the meadow. Smoke from the chimney meant someone had to be home.

She burst in without knocking and slammed the door, leaning back, closing her eyes, willing herself to stop panting.

When her breathing slowed, she opened her eyes. She was in what appeared to be the living room of a small family. Gold—she never went by her full name, Goldilocks (how absurd!)—sniffed the air and smelled something cooking over the fire in the grand hearth, before which were three expertly-carpentered rocking chairs. She put on the thick glove on the mantle and opened the pot, peering in.

“Ugh, mushy oats,” said Gold, not caring that she spoke to herself. She thought a moment, then said, scooping a healthy ladle-full into the largest of the three bowls, “Fuck it. I’m starving.” There was honey and cream on the serving tray, and Gold did not hesitate to put some on the mush. She did not want to taste the undefinable slop that was supposed to be oatmeal.

She shoved a spoonful of oats into her mouth, and the hot cereal scalded her tongue. “Shitfuck!” she screamed, spitting out the grayish lump. “Now I can’t fucking taste anything.” She sighed and leapt up without bothering to notice the chair’s delicately carved backrest shattering on the wood floor behind her. The color in her cheeks grew addled with red splotches as she angered.

Gold huffed and sat in the medium-sized chair. It had a feather cushion, and she sank down into it. Only, she didn’t stop sinking.


And with her buttocks hanging almost down to the floor, she pushed herself up so hard the arms of the chair snapped and tore away—and she plopped back down into the chair.

“Fucking hell,” said Gold under her breath.

Gold breathed in and out, in and out, slowly to calm herself. Then she pushed herself up smoothly. She walked to the stairs and climbed up. Maybe she could get a good look at the forest around the cottage.

There were two beds upstairs. One looked like it was for two adults; the other looked better suited for a child. She frowned at the latter. Maybe it was because she had been running for so long or the endless debacles from downstairs, but Gold yawned and stretched, distracted from the chase outside.

She removed her sword, bow and quiver and set them on the small bed. She pulled the dagger from its sheath on her buckler and climbed into the large bed, holding the short blade under the pillow. She closed her eyes and slept.

Gold awoke with a start at the sound of something crashing downstairs. Goddammit. Now what? she thought, lifting herself from the bed, her hair a tangled mane of curls. She heard the door smash inward and jumped up, suddenly alert, holding the dagger out, ready to strike.

Realizing the danger was not pressing, Gold shoved the dagger back into its concealed sheath on her arm. Then she slung the quiver across her shoulder and cinched her belt and sword back onto her waist. She crept along with silent steps, listening and peering downstairs. She glimpsed three black shapes, gigantic and furry. What were bears doing in this house?

The house didn’t seem like a home for bears. Then, Gold realized it wasn’t a home for bears. It was a home for people, and the bears downstairs were those unfortunate people that Rumpelstiltskin had transformed into animals and sent in after her!

Gold swallowed in a dry throat. She took each step as slowly and carefully as she could, trying to avoid the creak of loose wood rubbing from poor craftsmanship. She had nothing to worry about; the stairs were silent.

The largest of the bears was sniffing the fragments of the broken chair near the table. The medium sized bear was inspecting the rocker, where Gold had snapped off the arms. The smallest bear—Gold thought it could still be bigger than she was if it stood up on its hind legs—walked toward the stairs.

Toward Gold!

“Oh, shit!” She barely heard herself screaming.

Before she knew what she was doing, Gold was running outside, cool air filling her lungs. She heard the whiny call of the small bear as it cried out in what seemed to be surprise. The large bears roared, and Gold could hear the crunch of the door under huge bear paws. She just ran.

She had to find Rumpelstiltskin.

Gold could feel the ground shake as the bears galloped up to her. She could feel the hot breath of one on her neck, the acrid smell of rotting meat turning her empty stomach. Gold stopped. And turned.

But the bear didn’t attack. It stared at Gold with knowing, almost human, eyes. She could see its—his pleading through them.

“I understand,” she said, surprised her voice did not quaver. She put a steady hand on the bear’s head. Then she turned and ran into the forest to find the sorcerer, Rumpelstiltskin. Gold had a deal to call in.

And this time he would have to pay up.

(Challenge via here)


I hate leaving a scene unfinished when I write. Whether it’s because I run out of time to write or because I am interrupted for long periods (as in until the next writing session), I find I can never truly pick it up where I left off. Most often, I have to return to the beginning of the scene and rewrite the whole thing. The mood I had when I wrote the first part of the scene is gone, so I find I can’t continue what I’d started. What was I thinking would happen? What did I find compelling at that moment. It’s been lost forever to me, so I lose the essence of the scene. Sometimes I will write a note or two to remind Future-Me what I had in mind, but not always—not often enough, unfortunately.

I think when you write as a “hobby” (I cringe to use that word, but what I mean is that I’m working a full-time job and writing in my spare quiet moments.), you don’t have the time it takes to write a long-form work. I started thinking I would write short stories, but the universes I had in mind wanted to swell beyond that format, so I took one “short story” and have run with it; now I’m over 6,000 words into it and the story is only just beginning to lift off, which seems pretty normal from novels I’ve read, some of which I had to give over 100 pages to truly kick off.

The biggest tip I can think of is to write down notes of how a scene will work if you don’t have time to finish it in the current writing session. It will help you gather your thoughts and even though your mood may change how it ends up finishing, you’ll still have the basic framework for your original intent.


Journal prompt: Write about your greatest fear.

I thought this would be a really easy topic to discuss, but it turns out it’s really hard to write about something as abstract as an intangible fear.

I like to say I don’t get scared easily. And I don’t, just not at scary movies. I am, like many people, afraid of heights. I tend to panic, and avoid even short ladders for fear of falling to my premature death. My greatest fear is to be rejected. I’m sure we all deal with being afraid people will say no. For me, though, it’s paralyzing.

The roots of my seemingly irrational fear spring from my childhood, especially my teen years, when, instead of being cared for and nurtured by my parents, I was essentially kicked out to find a way to live on my own by my then stepmom. My father didn’t step in at the time. He really couldn’t have then. He was dealing with his own personal crises when I was in my mid-teens, but it didn’t remove the sting from his actions and, ultimately, his inaction when I moved out.

I went to live with my dad’s sister and her husband. It was a tumultuous six months, and by the end of the brief period I stayed with them, I had to deal with being rejected yet again by people who were supposed to love me.

After that, I went to live with someone who isn’t remotely related by blood, but with whom I share a kinship stronger than blood.

Even with the reassurance that there are good people in this world, I deal with a fear of being rejected. Like any fear, it plagues my mind with a series of negative what-ifs. So many times you hear people say, “The worst that could happen is they could say no.” But often, when I hear those words, my mind goes numb, and I flee to a refuge. I hide from facing the reality that people will, indeed, say no.

More recently, I have learned to push past this, and it’s produced some of my best moments. I’ve discovered that when I fear rejection the most, the better the idea—and the more rewarding it is when the idea isn’t rejected. Even when the idea is rejected, it’s fine. I can make a new idea for the task at hand. In fact, the idea may not be the best for that problem; I can perhaps apply it to another problem—or better yet, synthesize it into future thinking to help make future ideas stronger and more awesome.

Yes, it is irrational, but learning to live with it, not letting it take over is the most important part about fear.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
—Bene Gesserit litany against fear, Frank Herbert, Dune


Journal prompt: How do rainy days make you feel?

Growing up in Redding, California, I don’t recall a lot of rain. I remember it being very cold in the winter sometimes, but never did it snow. When it did rain, I remember waking to a wet ground, but there were never any downpours during waking hours, at least not that I can remember. We moved to Portland, Oregon, when I was 9 years old, and the climate in Portland is vastly different from Redding, which is almost desertlike in its lack of constant precipitation. I have come to appreciate the rain. But there are different kinds of rainy days, making this question, ‘How do rainy days make you feel?’ fairly difficult to answer singularly.

If the day is generally gray and dark with heavy showers, it can feel oppressive and depressing. Heavy rain, though, can be soothing. Letting the large raindrops drumming a rooftop with their chaotic rhythm wash over your senses can be uplifting and cleansing. The quiet moment that you have, where nature and human intervention communicate, letting you know that you are warm and dry in the shelter of your home is comforting. But when the downpour happens and you’re caught out in it without an umbrella—even with an umbrella since shoes usually get soaked—it reminds you that you are a small being caught up in the chaos of the world.

Then there are days that are dark and gray, but it only ever gets weakly misty. Those kinds of days are more annoying, since I often just want it to rain and get it over with. It’s like the purgatory of rainy days.

Other days are more akin to a game of tag. It rains torrents one moment and a few moments later, it’s bright, the skies saturated with golden light streaming through breaks in the nearly black clouds. The most enthralling of these types of rain–sun patterns is when it’s sunny yet pouring buckets at the same time. A Japanese friend of mine once told me that Japanese folklore calls sun showers, kitsune no yomeiri, the fox’s wedding. Many other cultures around the world see it as a kind of unification in nature, often alluding to some kind of marriage. There’s something so poetical about this. Dark and light become one, and if this kitsune no yomeiri happens later in the day, there may be a bright band of all visible colors refracted in the sky. It’s magical, light and water, bringing life to the land. On these kinds of days, I marvel at nature and how vast and remarkable the simplest systems are, yet we take for granted, if we aren’t mindful about it.

Totally Useless

Journal prompt: Name a totally useless possession and how you came to acquire it.

On my desk at home rests a shard of rust-red rock. It’s not large, perhaps 20 centimeters in length, flatly concave on the side that faces me, with the far side being a larger bulge. It rests flat on my desk as a reminder of carefree times back when I was a sophomore at university.

I was going to University of Oregon at the time, working for the American English Institute as an English tutor. Basically, I had conversations with foreign students to help them with English conversation skills. It was a great way to get exposure to other cultures while still remaining comfortable.

We went to Smith Rock Park in Central Oregon as a day trip a weekend in the summer of 2004. I was ill with ulcerative colitis at the time, so I opted to stay behind with the bus, while my students hiked along the rocky trail. When they returned a few hours later, my students brought me a gift: the shard of orange stone that sits on my desk to this day, nearly a decade later. It is good to remember the carefree days of younger years through the filter of mirky memory. It makes me wonder at what I will remember in years to come.


Journal prompt: Name something you lost or gave away that can never be replaced

When I first read this prompt, I instantly thought of something material, but then I thought about it more and I decided that the thing I lost that changed me forever was my innocence.

I think that at some point in our lives, we lose our innocence. We all do. The sad part is that, most often, people call that “growing up.” It’s not a sudden thing; I didn’t get up some day and realize I had lost my naïveté. I think all the tragedy I experienced throughout my childhood and early adulthood made me see the world differently. While I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing now, no child—or person for that matter—should have to live through everything I saw as a child. I won’t get into it here, but such a tumultuous upbringing can either make a person stronger and more resilient or take a person so far from being able to repair the damage inflicted by the tragedy forced upon them.

Luckily, I fall into the former category. I was fortunate to get out of the hellish situation in my late teens. A kind woman and her parents took me in as a boy, barely 16, and made me part of their family. It took me several years to mature in several ways, especially socially, since I had moved around a lot as a child and never was able to develop social skills. I didn’t really get a grasp on socializing until I was 23 or so, when I finally settled on graphic design.

It was around this time that I think my innocence really started to drop off from me. Oddly, all the trauma didn’t really taint me permanently, but I don’t think I could fully understand what I went through from an objective standpoint until my frontal cortex was more developed and I could grasp that what I went through wasn’t normal.

My innocence would be nice right now. I want to live a nice, peaceful life with few worries, but I don’t think that’s possible anymore. I have been tainted, forever changed.

I write stuff

I think things. I make up stories in my head, but I haven’t really given myself the opportunity or the place to put them somewhere. Well, now I am—and it’s public. It’s intimidating to put things up in public. Especially writing and such.

Let’s see where this takes us.