Let’s Do a Writing Exercise

First of all, a quotation:

“He rode into our valley in the summer of ’89. I was a kid then, barely topping the backboard of father’s old chuck-wagon. I was on the upper rail of our small corral, soaking in the late afternoon sun, when I saw him far down the road where it swung into the valley from the open plain beyond.

In that clear Wyoming air I could see him plainly, though he was still several miles away. There seemed nothing remarkable about him, just another stray horseman riding up the road toward the cluster of frame buildings that was our town. Then I saw a pair of cowhands, loping past him, stop and stare after him with a curious intentness.”

That’s the opening to the classic western Shane, by Jack Schaefer. Shane is a loner who rides into a newly formed town of homesteaders who are being menaced by a cattle baron. Shane is a man of mystery and danger, and our young narrator, Bob, is fascinated with him. It’s a western so it ends with violence and death.

But look how much we know about the story in those two paragraphs. By the end of the second one, we know there is something special — or strange — about that “stray horseman.” Even before the two cowhands react to his presence, though, there’s something about that description. Why does that lone rider hold Bob’s attention even though Bob thinks he’s “miles away?”

So, the exercise.

Part One: Pick an emotion. It can be fear, dread, relief, joy, anger, love… whatever. Curiosity… (is curiosity an emotion?). Spend a little while thinking about what you notice when you’re experiencing that emotion.

Part Two: Imagine a character, or at least a figure.

Part Three: Create a viewpoint character and have them observe the approaching figure. Imagine your viewpoint character is experiencing the emotion you picked, or at least begins to experience it.

Try to write a full page, double-spaced… about 250 words. (If you can’t, don’t sweat it.) It’s not necessary, but it might be fun to see if you can add as much physical description as Schaefer did.

It anyone does this, I’d love to see them! You can post them on your blog or someplace like Wattpad, and put a link to them in the Comments. Or, if it’s short, paste it into the Comments. Let’s go!

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