Build a House with Your Pen

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Writing is like building a home. Just as good architects and contractors take notes from other homes they see, good writers view the work of others. They learn, copy, and expand.

Simply put: good writers read.

Writing is like constructing a house

Photo by USACEpublicaffairs

When I was a child, my family built our house. We bought a plot of land, picked out some blue prints, and hired a team.

We also visited every home we could. We visited completed homes and homes under construction. We learned from other home builders, architects, and engineers.

If we hadn't talked to people, we never would have thought to put electric outlets on the exterior of the second floor for Christmas lights. We never would have thought to put rolling drawers in the pantry.

In building our house, there were plenty of neat ideas we picked up on from other builders.

And in the same way, there are plenty of lessons you can learn from other writers. What might scare you about this is copyright.

Copyright

When possible, give credit where credit is due. For example, this entire post came from something Holly Lisle said in her interview with The Write Practice a few weeks back when she called writers house-builders and readers house-buyers.

She said,

Writers are hammer-buyers. They want the best tools you can offer them, and they gen­er­ally don’t want to go any­where near YOUR houses, in case the way you build rubs off on them and changes their image of what they want to build.

And I'm saying, go near others' houses and let their building rub off on you and change the image of your building.

“Copy from one, it's plagiarism. Copy from two, it's research.” – Wilson Mizner

My family didn't walk into one house, draw out the floor plan foot-by-foot, and call it our own. We visited every house we could legally enter (ok, and some we couldn't). We learned the tools and tricks of the trade. Our home was a collaboration of input from many expert home builders, real estate agents, and home owners. Like good writers, we collected ideas from a variety of sources rather than a single one.

Learn, copy, expand. Now you try.

What have you learned, copied, or expanded upon from other writers in your own work? 

PRACTICE

Spend ten minutes writing a scene set inside a house—a new house, an old house, a large house, a small house—you pick.

Spend five minutes viewing and critiquing other homes (aka read and give feedback on other practices)

Katie Axelson is a writer, editor, and blogger who's seeking to live a story worth telling. You can find her blogging, tweeting, and facebook-ing.

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70 Comments

  1. Zoe Beech

    Ha, this is comforting!  It validates my obsession – which yesterday seemed very obsessive – because last night when the power went out I read for a solid hour by tea-candle light!!  I’ve been reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom which also has been really good for me – something like a dose of yummy tasting medicine – as there is almost NIL description, which is my default.  It felt like a great balancer.

    Here’s my practise:

    Lily felt she could stretch her hands and almost touch the perimeters of the house.  It was more a room than a house.  Every nook of space was used, and it had the feel that it was tidied continually by a person with extraordinary love.  The shack was built of bricks but it was the roof, a straight line of tin, that was unfamiliar to Lily.  She looked at the faces around her.  She felt so white and so very out of her depth.

    They were singing a slow, mournful song.  She did not know the words, so she bowed her head.

    The youngest in the group, the son who had just turned orphan, was silent, sitting on the mattress propped up with bricks.  His face wiped clean of expression was turned towards the green shrubs outside.  

    The surrounding shacks were quiet, and the sounds of children playing far away mingled with the far off drone of the highway were faint.  

    She looked at the women again who were singing.  Strong and proud, they sang over the bereaved who had no song.  They harmonised effortlessly.  A hush fell over the valley, and Lily no longer heard the children or the cars because the song had risen and something louder and more beautiful had settled quietly upon them.

    When they were finished, they shook the mourners’ hands without a word and descended down the soil-eroded path towards their home.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      Zoe, it took me awhile to figure out the setting. “The son who had just turned orphan” hit me in the gut. Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
      • Zoe Beech

        Thanks, Katie.  This boy, I forget his name, may have been one of the most incredible teenagers I’ve met.  14 and he nursed his mom until she died in that tiny shack, and he had SUCH dignity and strength…  There really are heroes all around us.

        Reply
        • Katie Axelson

          Wow. Thank you for telling his story!

          Reply
    • KP

      Hi Zoe,

      I just wanted to say I really liked the imagery in your story (especially “His face wiped clean of expression was turned towards the green shrubs outside.” and “She felt so white and so very out of her depth.”)

      (PS. Reading your story made me hear wind chimes!)

      Reply
      • Zoe Beech

        Thanks KP! 🙂 Wind chimes, that’s beautiful. 

        Reply
    • Plumjoppa

       The feel of this is so sad and peaceful at the same time.  I really like how you use color to paint the scene.  There is something lyrical about it that made me want to read it over again. 

      Reply
      • Zoe Beech

        Thank you, Plumjoppa…  I’m glad to hear that, because that’s what it felt to me – devastating and yet God was there through that singing too, so definitely.  

        Reply
    • Mirelba

      this is really well done, Zoe.  Hats off to you!

      Reply
      • Zoe Beech

        Thanks a lot Mirelba! 🙂

        Reply
    • mariannehvest

      You describe her a place and the people in it, but it touches on so much more than that, on community and the sadness of another orphan in this world.  I like thhe last line of the next to last paragraph.  This is the kind of writing people don’t forget.  I’ll remember this scene for a good while.  Very well done.  

      Reply
  2. Tammy Helfrich

    What a great reminder, Katie! We learn so much from others and when we write from our own experience, it is unique.

    Reply
  3. Rebecca

    Every morning I pass a homeless pair. They sit together, huddled next to each other, wrapped in a single blanket, watching the world pass them. Every so often, I’d offer them both a cigarette and spare change – enough to buy coffee. Whenever I pass them, so many questions fly through my mind – why don’t they build their own life? Why don’t they go and rent a house? What happened to them before they lived on the streets? Why are they together? What brought them to the streets? How did they meet?

    You never see a homeless pair together. Most of the time you’d find a single man in a small space with sad eyes, an impressive beard and tattered skin, or a woman coated in the stench of booze, singing loudly or proclaiming great things about Jesus and God. But this pair appear to be civilized, a bit scruffy, but no scruffier than the un-showered couple who have the weekly ritual of sitting lazily on the couch on a Sunday afternoon.

     I envy them. Their carefree, unstructured life has lead me to fantasize and even believe that they have it better. 

    I passed by their spot on Wednesday after work. I gathered the change in my pocket and brought a new box of cigarettes. I planned on sharing a smoke with them, so that they could answer some of the questions that burned inside of me for months. I passed by their little spot, their space, their house, their home but it seems they lived without a trace, no blankets, no clothing lying on the pavement, just an empty space of concrete. 

    If home is where the heart is, then where does the vagabond’s heart belong, where does the wanderer live?  

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      Way to break the rules. I like it, Rebecca. It made me think.

      Reply
      • Rebecca

        Thanks Katie! 🙂 

        Reply
    • mariannehvest

      What a great story.  You accomplished a lot with a few words.  I was sad when they were gone when she got back.  

      Reply
  4. KP

    Hi!  I’m new to this blog but I already love it here, I’m sure you’ll see me around a lot in the coming days.  I love this idea, I really enjoy the visual arts as well (especially illustration) and I think this is very true in all aspects of art – you improve by learning from others (not always people who are already masters of their craft, either!) The fun part comes when you start adding your own flair to what you’ve accumulated from them.

     Here is my practice:

    Stiletto heels on hardwood always sound like gunfire.  That is what Richard Walters thinks as he glances at his watch, then at the bundle of paperwork nestled in his arm.  It is two o’clock.  He is starving.  He should have been back at the office an hour ago.  He is tired of going from house to house and listening to Victoria prattle out all the flaws from the hairline cracks in the ceiling to ugly fireplace mantles to the ugly curtains.  Ugly curtains!  He wonders if Tammy will think to check his mail, or if he will have to stay late again to catch up.  He stops as Victoria peers into the living room with its full-mantled fireplace and large arch windows that let in the spring sun.

    “This carpet is absolutely dreadful,” Victoria clicks her tongue disapprovingly, nudging the greyish flooring with the toe of her strappy Jimmy Choo.  She draws her long leg away deliberately, as though expecting the carpet to rise up and bite her.  Behind her, there is a soft cough.  An indirect objection.  Victoria does not like to be challenged, at least not outright.  Certainly not by her mouse of a husband, who has mostly spent the trip tailing along like an obedient puppy on a leash.  Richard eyes Paul critically.  He is balding and paunchy, while Victoria is leggy and still beautiful, if not difficult.  Richard surreptitiously glances down and checks the price of the house.  He is beginning to understand why Victoria married Paul.

    “The original hardwood floor is underneath,” Paul is patient, having danced this dance a thousand times before.  His wife responds by narrowing her eyes, pulling up the collar of her coat and huffing into it.  That, Richard thinks, is not real fur.  Even though he’s certain she would like everyone to believe it is.  Maybe she thinks it is.  Richard has seen real fur, and he can tell her that while her jacket is very well put together – it is simply not real fur.  He has touched real fur, rubbed it against his cheek.

    “I really don’t understand why this is so hard,” Victoria is heading towards the foyer now, click click clicking her way down the hall towards the kitchen.  Richard wonders if it would be unprofessional to run away.  Victoria has mastered the art of looking disgusted just by raising her eyebrows a certain way.  She does this now, while standing in the kitchen.  It is not a huge kitchen, but Richard has seen worse.  He is about to comment that this is a craftsman kitchen, with tons of cupboard space when Victoria turns to him while stroking her collar.  Her long fingers disappear in the tufts of brown and black.  Richard wants to take her aside, gently by the arm, and tell her: that is not real.  None of it is.

    “I’m not sure you understand, we are accustomed to a certain standard of living and we have standards…” she trails off as she catches him staring at her collar.  She smiles, somewhere between mischievous and malicious.   “This is real fur, you know,” she drawls without missing a beat, then turns on her heel and picks her way towards the back door that leads to the garden.  The porch creaking in protest.  Paul trails along behind, always the obedient one.  He slaps Richard on the back in a way that might salvage a few pieces of his masculinity.  Instead, it makes Richard feel sorry for him.  He forces a smile, hoping it will hide the wince he really feels.

    “That carpet really was ugly, wasn’t it?”

    Richard raises his glance skyward, a half-roll of the eyes.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      Welcome, KP. I look forward to seeing you around more.

      Reply
    • Sarah Hood

      Haha, I love the opening sentence! You’re really good at describing things too.

      Reply
    • Zoe Beech

      Good to have you!  I so agree, this website is an invaluable resource, and on top of that a really friendly community.

      This was great!  Strongly drawn characters, and I love your juxtaposition of the ‘fake fur’ with the house which is so below Victoria’s ‘certain standard of living’.  Victoria’s eyebrows, her being challenged by the mouse of a husband, the slap that makes Richard pity him.  

      Reply
    • mariannehvest

      I love this. You characters pop into three dimensions immediately.  The wife is one I immediately hate which makes me ambivalent about her husband, should I feel sorry for him or think the’s an idiot. That draws me into the story.  I like the way you have dialogue but depend more on inner dialogue to move the story along.  

      Reply
  5. Rtravenick

    The woman had told her to “Wait here,” and so she sat rigidly, her back forced straight against the hard cold plaster wall. Muffled voices and the whoosh and click of doors could be heard at the end of the hallway but here there was silence and folded umbrellas and coats dripping from hooks. She adjusted her starched cap, straightened her apron and stood to attention when her name was barked by the matron who eyed her closely before leading her down the hallway past the neatly stacked linens and bedpans lined up precisely in the cupboards that had once displayed china.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      Ooooh, I like it. I want to know more. Who is she? Why’s she there? What’s the situation.

      Reply
      • Rebecca

        I really loved this. Would love to see where it goes because I too was intrigued by the character.

        Reply
    • Sarah Hood

      This would make a great opening paragraph. That last sentence especially, about the linens and bedpans in the cupboards that used to hold china, really got me wondering what comes next. 

      Reply
    • Zoe Beech

      Great feeling in this piece – the harshness of the environment really comes through in your descriptions.

      Reply
  6. Mirelba

    What can I tell you, asked to describe  a scene set inside a house, what comes to mind is what I found yesterday when I came home.  This is the fictionalized version…

    Janice stared with dismay at the storm of clothing and papers
    strewn all over her bedroom.  Drawers
    were pulled out of the dresser, their contents probably dumped, yet it looked
    as if they’d been thrown in the air to land where they would.  She waded over the mounds of mess to her bed,
    where a towel lay spread showing off the remnants of some items from her
    bedside drawer.  The drawer itself lay on
    its side, empty:  Jewelry gone, reading
    glasses lying drunkenly at an odd angle on the bed.  The carpet lay hidden beneath the mounds, the
    windows staring at the mess aghast.

    She felt tears welling up in her eyes as she choked down a
    sob.  How could anyone do this, invade
    her home, her privacy?  She hugged
    herself as she passed into her home office. 
    Here too was a mess, a veritable blizzard of papers pulled out of their
    binders and filing boxes and drawers, disks pulled out of their jackets scattered
    around reflecting the light.  What was
    anyone expecting to find there?  She
    could see her laptop was gone from its place of honor on the desk next to the
    fax. 

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I hope this really is a fictional piece, Mirelba.

      Reply
      • Mirelba

        No, we were ransacked yesterday. Very depressing. Some of the depictions are fictionalized, but that’s the basic feeling and picture. And I’m now left with only the jewelry I was wearing (they literally took everything, even the junky costume jewelry) and my pc but no lap top. bummer

        Reply
          • Mirelba

            Yeah, me too 🙁 Thanks.

          • Rebecca

            Sad that it happened, but the description was certainly riveting and interesting. 

    • Zoe Beech

      Oh Mirelba, I’m so sorry… that’s a terrible feeling.  I hope you’ve settled after it, and got some of your things back.  We also had that happen, and you really showed the feel of this well.  There are some great phrases here that really convey that loss and invasion so well – ‘glasses lying drunkenly’, ‘windows staring at the mess aghast’, ‘laptop was gone from its place of honour’.

      Reply
      • Mirelba

        Thanks. Almost back to normal. and thanks for the other comments as well 🙂

        Reply
    • mariannehvest

      That is horrible.   It is a great description, strong writing, but I’m so sorry that this happened to you. 

      Reply
      • Mirelba

        Thanks.

        Reply
  7. Sarah Hood

    There’s no mistaking the front door. Green and round, with a gold doorknob set smack in the middle of it. My chest swells with excitement, and I can’t keep the smile from my face. For some reason I feel a couple feet sorter. I turn the knob and walk inside. The only light comes through round windows in the front wall, because the house is built into the side of a grassy green hill. I stand up a little straiter, and my head knocks into a low-hanging lantern and suddenly I feel taller than ever. Makes me think of a certain Wizard in a similar house long ago. Too bad this house wasn’t made to scale because, as much as I complain about being short, I’m not as short as a Hobbit. Taking care to watch my head, I walk through a circular opening into a small study and sit down at the desk. No laptop, only a quill pen, a bottle of ink, and a book of white paper. The only sounds I hear are the birds singing outside and my pen scratching the paper. Just me and my pen and paper in house of my dreams. I couldn’t possibly ask for more.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I smiled when you described the door too, Sarah. Love it!

      Reply
    • mariannehvest

      This is good.  I like the illusion to Alice in Wonderland (or is it Through the Looking glass) when she feels taller and then shorter.  I can’t imagine being in many places better than the one you describe here.  It’s very upbeat and happy.  

      Reply
  8. Jack Dowden

    She woke on a strange bed, and didn’t know her name.

    A thin sheet covered her naked body. When she sat up, she
    held the sheet close. The bed groaned from her movement.

    Where am I?

    Light came through a single window so covered in grit she
    couldn’t see anything. There were no decorations, no pictures, no posters,
    nothing. Just drywall, a cement floor, cobwebs in the corners, and a thick
    looking grey door.

    Where am I?

    She wrapped the sheet around herself, walked to the door,
    and slowed her breathing. Slowly, she put her ear to cold metal and listened.
    Nothing.

    The knob didn’t jiggle, even a little. She went to the
    window and saw a thick grove of trees through the pane’s mud stains and dirt.

    Out. Get out.

    When the window didn’t budge, she ripped a piece of the
    sheet off, wrapped it around her elbow, and slammed it into the glass. A dull
    throb hit her arm and she bit off a curse. She pushed on the window again, hit
    it with her elbow again, and when that failed, went back to the door.

    Her skin flushed and she felt sweat in her hair. Her
    breathing picked up its pace. She ignored it all. The pulled on the knob,
    kicked the door, threw herself against it.

    It didn’t matter what was on the other side. She had to get out.

    A click came from
    outside. She moved back, away from the door she’d been trying to break down.
    She ran to the window, start hitting it, over and over again, even as she heard
    the door swing open.

    She turned around, cornered.

    A man in fatigues stood in the doorway. He held a duffel bag
    in his right hand.

    “I brought you some clothes.” He put the bag down, walked
    out, and shut the door. She heard the click.

    For a few minutes, she stood with her back to the wall and
    eye on the door, waiting. He didn’t come back. Inside the bag she found
    underwear, socks, fatigue pants and a black t-shirt. They all fit her
    perfectly.

    Were these mine
    before? If they were, she didn’t recognize them.

    As she pulled the shirt over her heard, she saw a scar on
    her forearm. It looked as if a thousand little blades had crisscrossed across a
    small patch of her skin. A tattoo?
    She could tell there’d been an original shape. The other little zigzags and
    crisscrosses had covered it.

    Did I get a tattoo
    removed? She suddenly became very aware there was a man she didn’t know
    keeping her locked in a room in a building in the woods. Did he take it off? She thought you needed lasers for that.

    She went back to the window and tried to move it again. Then
    back to the door. She felt like a windup toy, repeating the same motions over
    and over again. What else could she do?

    When the man returned, she sat on the bed and watched him.
    He looked plain. That was the word she thought. Plain.

    He had a shaved head, healthy looking skin, and blue eyes.
    Something about him tugged at her. There were circles under his eyes, and as
    she looked closer, he appeared drawn. Not weak, but tired. He watched her right
    back.

    “Are you hungry?”

    She nodded.

    “Come with me.”

    Reply
    • Jte3rd

       Nice spare description.  I like the paragraph with the cobwebs and the thick gray door.   I can see this scene clearly.

      Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      Well done, Jack. I can visualize everything that’s happening here. I did miss that he never really came into the room but upon rereading, it’s there. 🙂

      Reply
    • mariannehvest

      This is good writing IMO.  It’s very clear and it moves forward at a good pace.  There is enough mystery about it to keep me interested. Thanks!

      Reply
  9. Jeff Ellis

    Well, I caught the writing bug this time. Took me something like twenty minutes to finish this:

    It takes Lana too long to pick the lock, so I bust the entire knob in with my sledgehammer. We both cringe. It makes more noise than I was expecting. Seems obvious to me now, but I’m not known for my quick thinking. We rush in and close the door behind us, more for morale than any actual good it will do us. 
    “What the fuck was that?” she asks.

    “You were taking too long,” I say.

    “Well good job, dipshit. Now every walker for a damn mile is coming for us. Let’s make this quick.” Lana shoulders past me to where she assumes the kitchen is. I follow her, sledgehammer at the ready. 

    She pulls open all the drawers as quietly as she can, constantly stopping to listen for any activity in the rest of the house. When I open a cabinet she glares at me. “Maybe you could search somewhere else? Speed this up a little?” 

    “Oh, sure…holler if you see anything,” I say and walk into the adjacent living room. Lana mutters something about how stupid I am under her breath.

    The people who lived here before were probably really cool. They have expensive furniture. I sit down on their red couch and relax a little. Lana would be pissed if she came in here, but I can still hear her searching the kitchen. I miss sitting on couches. 

    On the end table next to me is a picture of the homeowners. A middle-aged guy and his wife are cuddled close together in what is obviously a photo studio, with their little girl sitting in front of them. They seem nice. 

    Above me the floorboards creak. I look in the kitchen and see Lana rummaging through the pantry. Hrm. Resting the head of my sledgehammer on my shoulder, I head upstairs. I’ve never been a quiet, nor patient, person, but I try my best to “go slow,” like Lana always tells me. 

    I peek my head up to the railing and look around the second floor. No one in sight. There are pictures of the family hung on every wall. I bet one of the parents was a photographer, because they’re all really good photos. Of course, both parents are in each picture, so I don’t know. 

    Carefully, I open the door the room directly above where I was. It’s a nursery. The walls are painted a baby blue. Must have been a boy. They left the window open. Lana would be pissed at that. “One entryway, that’s it,” she always says. An old rocking chair creaks in the corner of the room. I guess it was just the wind.

    Lana screams and I’m barreling down the steps without a second thought. She’s holding a walker’s hungry jaws at bay, but it’s stronger than she is. I bash it’s head in with the sledgehammer and shove it’s body off of her. She’s panting.

    “Good hit,” she says.

    More walkers are pounding on the doors and windows. 

    “Time to go!” Lana says.

    Reply
    • Jte3rd

       Nice job.  I didn’t se what was going on till about the 3rd to last paragraph.  I like the way you exposited the family who had lived in the house before.  (But you hit my pet peeve:  the spelling of  “its.”  No apostrophe in the possessive.)

      Reply
      • Jeff Ellis

        Thanks for the kind words Jt. I edited out the inappropriate “it’s”. That’s one I’m trying to learn right now 😛 I’ve never been any good at grammar.

        Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I like it, Jeff. I wanted to know more about the situation. Where’d the family go and what’s a walker?

      Katie

      Reply
      • Jeff Ellis

        Thanks for reading, Katie. Walker is another common name for a zombie. Which should sum up where the family went 😉

        Reply
    • mariannehvest

      It’s suspenseful because they are rummaging though things and then there is the open window.  The deserted baby’s room was pretty chilling. Well done.  

      Reply
      • Jeff Ellis

        Thanks for reading Marianne! I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂

        Reply
  10. Akhiro Twelve

    Well, here goes…

                Once the seat of supreme power, the
    imperial palace now lay in ruin.  Nestled
    high in the eastern mountains, it had stood majestically upon an island in a
    vast man made lake.  That lake had been
    fed by the snowy peaks that towered beyond the palace in the north and drained
    slowly through a dam in the south to the imperial city below.  The dam doubled as part of the Dragon’s Path,
    the emperor’s road, and because of the deafening roar that would often greet
    spring and summer visitors, the dam had been called the Dragon’s Maw.  After centuries of neglect, the dragon’s
    mouth was now full of broken teeth.

                Across the Dragon’s Maw, the
    emperor’s road rounded half the lake before a traveler would come to a port.  The port’s dock had partially crumbled and
    fallen into the shallow waters.  Those
    waters also served as the graveyard for the ferries that once served as the
    only means into and out of the palace.

                The palace had been made of the
    imperium’s finest materials.  Jade had
    dominated the décor.  Valuables that had
    been easy to carry away had long since vanished, leaving mostly crumbling
    marble and rotting wood.  An endless
    array of gardens and courtyards once meticulously cared for were now overgrown
    or entirely barren.  And when the wind
    rushed off the northern peaks, the empty halls that had housed countless
    celebrations howled as if enraged at their plight.

                Somewhere inside that hulking waste
    lay the treasure Garret sought.  He didn’t
    relish going in there, but he had no choice. 
    If he was lucky, all of the tales of the spirits that supposedly lived
    in the palace were just that – tales. 
    Gripping the holy relic hung about his neck by a tarnished silver chain,
    he somehow doubted it.

                Taking in a deep breath, he took his
    first step onto the crumbling Dragon’s Maw.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I especially like the comment about how he didn’t relish going in there but he had no choice. It’s a simple sentence that shares a lot about the character. Well done, Akhiro.

      Reply
      • Akhiro Twelve

        Thank you Katie.

        Reply
    • mariannehvest

      I like this fantasy sort of story.  My favorite part it the description of the dock that had partially crumbled and the waters that it fell into. that is a great paragraph.  

      Reply
      • Akhiro Twelve

        Thanks Marianne.

        Reply
  11. A Gentleman's Rapier

    As he entered through the art deco front door, his feet were greeted by the sound of groaning floor boards under the worn-out carpet in the foyer. Immediately upon entering the house, he was greeted by the familiar, comforting smell of the charcoal fireplace in the main lounge to the right. 

    He peered in to find his grandfather fast asleep, as was usual for this time of afternoon, in his favourite leather chair, wool tartan blanket (Gordon tartan, naturally) wrapped around his legs. The latest book about his latest intellectual obsession lying face-down in his grandfather’s lap. The faint, mid-winter’s sunlight dappled through the lace curtains in the large windows, but the only heat one could feel in the room emanated from the Edwardian fireplace. The familiar scene comforted him in his current state of mind.

    On days like this, however, more comfort was to be found in the kitchen. He followed the smell of freshly-baked cinnamon rolls into the recently refurbished kitchen further along the hall, toward the back of the ground floor. As he entered, he appreciated all the effort it took to make the room look as it may have in the 1920’s, but with all the modern conveniences one came to expect: a sort of shabby chic, with the Aga cooker being the main focal point of the room in which his grandmother spent most of her days.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I like how you included smell. It’s easy for writers to forget that. (Especially writers who often have a stuffed up nose… not that I know anything about that…)

      Reply
    • mariannehvest

      I really like this.  I particularly like the description of the sun coming though the lace curtains.  The way you describe it, it sounds like a place where he has found comfort in the past, with his grandparents.  

      Reply
  12. Alexis

    Although I’ve been reading “The Write Practice” for weeks now, I have been too nervous to post my responses.  But I have to start somewhere, so today, I’ll post my practice.  There are some really talented writers in this community, and I am excited to learn from them and interact more with them.  

    My mother-in-law’s house is enormous.  When I ring the doorbell and June opens the
    heavy front doors wide to let me into the domed foyer, I always feel like I’m
    entering a museum. 

     

    “Hello darling!” June gushes, squeezing me in a
    bear-strength hug, her fur stole –is that what that shoulder wrap thing is
    called?, tickling my face. 

     

    I am not very small, but June is such a tall woman that I
    feel childlike again whenever I see her, especially after one of her hugs.  I manage a smile that I hope covers up my
    discomfort and makes me look confident. 
    “It’s good to see you June,” I say. 
    I feel self-conscious about how resonant and booming my voice sounds in
    this big, echoing space. 

     

    “Well, let me take one of your bags and let’s get you
    settled.”  June snaps the larger of my
    suitcases out of my hand and turns toward the stairs –no the stairway, ‘stairs’
    doesn’t seem an appropriate word for this marble work of art, with its curving
    elegance, and polished mahogany handrail. 

     

    I follow June as we make our way to my room.  Although I’m here only a couple of times each
    year, and almost never without Paul, my husband, I have my own private
    guestroom for the times I come alone. 
    And this is not special treatment of me on June’s part –she just really
    has that many rooms.  When Paul and I
    come together, we sleep in a ecru-toned grand-suite style bedroom, but since
    June thinks I would feel lonely sleeping in such large quarters alone, I have
    my small(er) room for the rare occasions, like today, when Paul is not with
    me.  June’s own room is shockingly
    modest.  She has a simple, narrow twin
    bed covered with a homemade quilt.  In
    fact, her bedroom is so out of place in this mansion that it is the only room I
    ever actually feel comfortable in when I come here.  Of course, I don’t go in her room often, only
    when I’m sure she’s busy with overseeing of the numerous tasks such a large
    house requires of a person, and I manage to slip away on tiptoe. 

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I’m so glad you finally had the courage to post, Alexis! Welcome to The Write Practice officially now. This house sounds so elaborate. I want to explore it more. 🙂

      Reply
    • mariannehvest

      I like June and mostly because I like the fact that she has a small simple room in this grand house.  You have used the description of the house and room to expand you character which is great.

      Reply
  13. Robert

    I’ve been storing a short story in my mind for a long time and when this prompt came up it got me to thinking … how would I start the story … here goes … I hope I can get more on paper.  It’s a manifestation of my parents dying seperately in different homes but during the same time period. 
                                                                                              …

    Dream laden mind wanders up asphalt
    driveway, wooden memory.  Cave-like
    porch, dark and damp, wax smell, low hum … safe haven; light like a flash,
    sorrow filled head one step, two step, dizzy … now, safe in the foyer, burnt
    carpet. 

     

    The big house breathed heavily and
    sighed as I put down my books. 
    Where would I find her today?  

     

    “Hello Mother, would you like some
    tea, I’ll put the water on.” 

     

    No answer.

    Reply
    • mariannehvest

      I love this. The house is well described.  I feel like I am there.  I like “the house signed breathed heavily, sighed as I put down my books”.  It’s more like poetry than prose. 

      Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      This is deep, Robert. I like it. It also sounds like it’s cathartic for you to write about it.

      Reply
  14. mariannehvest

    They walked up the steps to the small stucco house, holding onto a wobbly metal rail that had been painted dark green to go with the shutters.  He took a key out of his pocket. She noticed it was on a ring that had one of those ugly leather squares with a gold initial V on it.  He held the door for her. They were greeted by the smell of onions, cabbage and bacon grease and a voice that said “Oh are you all here already? I’ll be right out.” 

    “Did you tell her the right time?” she said. 

    “I think so,” he answered.  

    “Well look at you,” she came into the room, a tiny woman, with a weathered face and hands that were too big for her body, boney hands with big knuckles.  

    She went directly to him and hugged him, ignoring her.  Had he not told her that he was bringing her to meet him. She wondered why he had waited so long to introduce her to his mother anyway.  

    “Mama this is Estee,” he said. 

    “Hi,” said Estee and she held out her hand.  

    His mother looked directly at her with icy blue eyes, the kind that have slivers of white flecked through the blue. She smiled but it wasn’t a real smile.  Estee noticed that she had dentures.   

    “Well so you’re where he’s been for two weeks,” she said.  It was accusatory like Estee had stolen him.  “He came here to live after his divorce. You know he’s real broke up about that.  He’s good hearted.  He misses that little boy.”

    “I’m sorry,” she said, and she wanted to leave. She looked at the walls and waited for the visit to be over.  There was an autographed picture of Conway on the wall above the TV. The TV itself was in a dark cabinet and had rabbit ears.  The most interesting thing in the room was the coffee table which was covered with pennies lined up and glued to the surface.  They had collected dust and grit in the spaces left where the round edges met.  

    “My husband made that,” said his mother.  “Glued each on in by hand, with cement glue, the kind in the green tube.”

    “Interesting,” said Estee.  

    “He was very proud of it. He died of a heart attack.  He finished it before he died.”

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I love your details and description, Marianne, especially towards the beginning.

      Reply
    • Robert

      Very well written Marianne … I love to read stories that paint a picture with detailed descriptions as Katie says … I love that the dialog here serves to fine tune the piece, completing the picture — I sense that I’m nearly a part of the story, a silent observer, if you will  …  

      Reply
      • mariannehvest

        Thanks Robert

        Reply
    • Akhiro Twelve

      I really like this.  It struck home reminding me of my own mother and the frigid reception she gave my then-girlfriend-now-wife.  The description of the mother’s eyes     made me feel the chill in the room.

      Reply

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