Writing Challenge: Set the scene

“Setting can be another character. And just as with cardboard characters, a lack of setting will leave a story feeling one-dimensional.” – Patience Bloom, Senior Editor

If you’ve been with us all week, you know that we’ve been talking about the importance of creating a vivid setting for your romance. Ready to give it a try?

Your challenge this week: Create a setting in a 3-5 paragraph scene – with as little overt description as possible! How? Here are a few tips:

  • Employ as many of the senses as possible; we experience the world with more than just our eyes.
  • Observe the details; make it specific, and your readers will “get it” with fewer words.
  • Describe, but choose only what’s important; what a character notices says something about them.
  • Avoid “stage directions”; your characters’ actions will help evoke setting, but, as above, you don’t need to include everything.
  • Connect setting to character; How do your characters feel about their surroundings? Anxious? Excited? Happy? Peaceful?

Post your scene in the comments below any time between now and Sunday, June 16, 2019, and we’ll check back with you on Monday!

44 replies on “Writing Challenge: Set the scene”

Logan woke up to bright sunshine and a strange room.
Neither of these were new to him. He’d spent years playing in a band. They toured. Days started late, and he woke up in different rooms all the time. Some had been sketchy, some nice like this one.
He hadn’t been in a band for a long time, though. He was alone, which wasn’t the case when he was on tour. This sunshine was stronger than he was used to. There was a different scent in the air. He took a moment and remembered. St Martin. Ellie.
A pleasant side effect of being sober was waking up without a headache. He thrust a hand through his hair, yawned, and pulled himself out of bed.
He went to the balcony doors and stepped out. He slept naked, but the balcony walls were high enough that no one would see him and be shocked. He could smell the saltwater, hear the waves and the sound of kids on the beach playing. It was a comforting family sound. He shuddered.

Soft piano music eased into the room as Serena Ryan looked around at all the forlorn faces. Overwhelmed by the suffocating scent from the floral arrangements scattered around the shiny black casket, she sucked a deep breath into her lungs and coughed into her hanky. Never in a million years had she considered this event. The small funeral chapel was packed with sympathizers. Maybe if her heart wasn’t traumatized, she could feel something and understand what brought these people out on such a cold winter day. Some obtuse sense of duty?

She’d never attended a viewing before and didn’t want to be here today. But she was. It was her responsibility. Out of respect for the deceased. But wait. What if her husband wasn’t dead? What if Joe walked through that door with his usual broad grin waiting to sweep her into his exciting world? A place much different than her quiet existence. No way did Wildflower, New York, compare to the Big Apple. Being a librarian in a small town of five hundred people, give or take a few, was nothing compared to the cutting-edge life Joe lived every day. The life that swiped Joe away in a heartbeat. One minute he was there, texting her as he rode the train, the next there was nothing. No answer to her texts, no response to her frantic calls. In one very dark moment, Joe was gone.

Serena reached the first pew. As she turned to sit, someone grasped her hand and she drowned in the blue eyes of a man she’d only seen in photographs. Joe’s boss. His stunning image had graced the cover of Forbes. He was a billionaire, he had it all, and he didn’t know one thing about her.

“Mrs. Ryan…Serena, I’m truly sorry for your loss.”

What did that mean exactly? He was sorry she lost the only man she’d ever loved, or was he sorrier he’d lost his best legal eagle? It didn’t matter, really. Joe was gone. “Thanks.”

He nodded at her mumbled word and she tugged her hand free of his grasp, rubbing it against her skirt. She glanced at the other expensive tailored suits that lined the long wooden bench, giving the entire chapel a surreal effect. Most of her friends, family, and neighbors were country born and raised. Even wearing black clothes or their Sunday’s best they didn’t appear out of place as much as this row of highly distinguished men.
What were they doing here? Joe had held a prominent position in the company along with a few other partners, but then there was Mr. Brandt Worthington of Worthington, Dunne, and McCaw, LLC. The largest and most successful legal firm in Manhattan. They were all city men and didn’t belong here in Wildflower. They stuck out like a black cat in the snow and were just about as concerned for her welfare as they would be for the stray cat.

Well done, Chrissie! We get lots of details here and you’ve linked the character’s emotions to her surroundings.

They talked for the rest of the afternoon, then ate the pasta Daniel had prepared, staying out on the patio and enjoying the pleasant evening as they watched the sun sink below the distant horizon leaving a glittering trail of fire across the gently shifting waves. Gulls wheeled and called, plaintive evocation of everything to do with the sea, bringing back to anyone who heard them memories of holidays past, sun and warmth, sand underfoot.
‘It`s amazing,’ Emily said idly, eyes narrowed against the red and gold path. ‘This sea….it never ceases to fascinate me. Like this, so tame, so beautiful. But in winter it can be awful down here. Usually, no-one stays in Cove Cottage over winter. We only come down if Harbour View is booked. Otherwise, we put up the shutters here…’ she nodded her head in the directions of the windows behind them and took a mouthful of cool white wine, ‘and abandon the place until spring. If there`s a storm combined with extra high tides, the waves can break right over the wall here.’
‘Mmm. I wondered about that.’ He gestured to where the tide lapped gently at the rocks immediately below the patio. ‘It`s a wonderful setting, though. Nicer than Harbour View.’ He inhaled deeply. Warm salt air. Seaweed. Her perfume. Wine.
‘I think so, too. I love this place.’
They both fell silent, letting the tranquil sound of the shushing waves lull them. Somehow, with just the sea and the glorious sunset, it was easy to forget past pain and resentments, allowing instead softer feelings to creep in, feelings which subtly entrenched themselves into the heart.

Well done, Sally! Lots of beautiful details here – I love the last line that brings their emotions into the scene as well!

Still on their feet, the crowd roared and chanted as the group quietly settled into their places, checking their equipment, talking to each other, occasionally laughing. Mike ran his fingers over his guitar and the notes echoed out above the noise. There was a sudden run on the drums, a chord on the keyboard, a deep, strong note from the bass, then silence before a crashing chord as the band broke into a strong rock tune with an insistent beat. The crowd exploded, clapping and cheering.
Jessica couldn’t believe it. The noise of the crowd rose yet again in intensity, almost competing with the loud rock instrumental the band were throwing out. A dazzling spotlight swung into the back of the stage and a figure dressed all in black, shirt undone to the waist, a guitar slung over his shoulder, ran to the central microphone.
Nic. Nic! Her heart thumped in utter acknowledgement of her love for him.
This is what he did. This! It was so unreal.
Suddenly a voice, deep, powerful, was pouring out lyrics at the screaming, cheering crowd, rising above the instruments, blending in with them, now rough, now smooth. Slowly the crowd calmed and settled into a mass of swaying, singing humanity, totally supportive of the group on stage. Nic had his back slightly turned towards Jessica. Then he turned. The song slowed a little. He seemed to look directly at her.
He walked down the stage. Hands reached up to him. He put his own hand out, stretched towards where he knew Jessica must be. The words were of love. Meant only for her.
Jessica turned her head and found her friend’s eyes waiting for her. ‘Well,’ she said at last, ‘he’s good, I’ll grant him that. It’s amazing! The way he sings! I’d no idea! I know I’ve been listening to his records but to see him live…!’ Jessica was stunned by the power of it. Tears filled her eyes and pride filled her heart.
She turned back again to watch as Nic strode now down to the other end of the stage. His energy and dedication were intense. Everything went into his performance. He was never still. Singing or playing, he moved constantly, restlessly, prowling the stage, controlling the crowd, directing the band.
The music was fascinating. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast, sometimes loud, sometimes soft, sometimes a mixture. Layer upon layer of guitars, drums and keyboards, every one of the players pushing himself to the limit, with vocals running over the top in Nic’s strong voice which sometimes caressed, sometimes threatened, sometimes cajoled, sometimes directed, backed with harmonies coming in from the others.
Oh, he was good. Her heart went out to him.
After each song the crowd clapped, cheered, whistled, chanted. Jessica’s eyes turned from the stage, to the people, to the stage again, concentrating, listening, intent, interested. She’d never experienced anything like this, never imagined she would…never, ever thought such a man as Nic would be her fate in life.

Senya picked up her coffee for a sip. “The fun just never stops around here, she said dryly, but stopped with her cup halfway to her mouth.
Back on the live-aboard dock at the marina, a white-haired man, well over seventy, walked brisk down his dock, following the first pair to the showers. He merely wore a bright orange towel slung around his skinny hips and carried a green cloth grocery bag.
“Everyday I wonder if today’s the day the towel will slip.” Gladys said to the sound his flip flops snapping against the wood.
“Eep.” Senya said and sipped her coffee. “You do this every morning, sit here and people watch the marina?”
“Well, not every morning,” Gladys allowed. “Just since the star of our show berthed his boat on the visitors’ dock two days ago.” She gestured with a wave of her cup in the direction of the lone boat currently occupying a slip at the fifty foot dock. The sailboat was thirty-two foot Bayfield, cutter rigged, just like the one her parents owned.
“Ah.” Gladys smiled warmly, eyes on someone emerging from the cockpit.
Senya tipped her head Gladys’ way to see a strikingly tall, fit man with short black hair and a healthy tan straighten up as he gained the dock. The man wore a faded ragged grey T-shirt which clung to his trim muscled frame and tan walking shorts, torn and stained, which revealed glimpses of long muscular legs dusted with black hair. His feet were bare.
“Wow.” Senya breathed as she watched him stroll down the dock in the same direction as the others. He move like an athlete, sure of what he was capable of.
“Wait for it…”
He turned the corner to access the main dock and Senya could finally see his face. As the man disappeared from view she cut her eyes to the older woman. “That’s John Norton.”
“Yes,” Gladys said smugly.
“His hair is cut so short.”
“Changed it for his next role. Some movie in Vancouver.”
Senya looked at Gladys. “How do you know?”
“He told me when I asked. He’s one of my customers. I made some bread for him.” A pleased expression lite her round face. “Would you mind doing today’s deliveries?” Gladys arched one eyebrow.

This is a great response to the prompt! The descriptions of the scenery are so nicely woven into the plot. We have a clear view of the setting without feeling like we’ve been told exactly where we are.

‘I hate you, Jason O’Leary!’ The words echoed against the high rocks surrounding them, sounding much stronger than she felt. With a helpless sob Mandy sank on her knees, not caring about the stains the wet sand made on her wedding gown. ‘I hate you, and I want you to leave me alone!’ Half blinded by her tears she saw him hesitate, then slowly turn around, stepping back from her. Without another word he walked away, to the stony portal that marked the entrance to the bay. And then, at last, he was gone.

As she watched him walking out of her life her hands clawed deep into the sand and the roaring sound of the waves equaled the desperate pounding of her heart. This was the end, she thought, her eyes focused on a firy red poppy, that miraculously grew in a crack of the black and barren rocks above her. In the distance she heard the triumphant cry of a prey bird, an eagle perhaps, on the verge of ripping out the heart of his innocent victim. Like Jason had done with hers.

Suddenly her fingers touched something cold and hard. Digging deeper she discovered it was a beautiful conch shell, buried beneath layers of sand that relentless waves had left on it. In awe she stared down at the shining, pearly white surface, seemingly untouched by whatever the sea had done to it. As she picked it up a strong scent of salty seaweed tickled her nose and made her sneeze. In a childish impulse she held the shell close to her ear, listening to the whispering, luring sounds that spoke of mysterious creatures in a faraway world. A world where men like Jason couldn’t hurt her anymore, she thought dreamily. A place where nobody knew the shame he had put upon her. Wouldn’t that be the answer of all her problems?

Still caught in the strange whispering spell of the conch shell, she scrambled to her feet, and stumbled towards the water, allowing the waves to push her further and further into the sea. She almost felt the water closing above her head, when out of the blue a hand took her arm in an iron grip and, despite her desperate screaming and kicking, dragged her back to the beach. Panting and gasping she fell on the sand, her heaving chest barely covered by her soaked and ruined wedding gown.

‘I’m sorry, but I had to rescue you,’ said a man’s angry voice from somewhere above her. ‘I couldn’t let you spoil what was supposed to be my big moment. I don’t want to stand in your way, but I had it all planned. It’s my dead body that will wash ashore tomorrow.’ He paused, looking down on her with a strange distorted face. ‘You see, whatever terrible reason you had for doing this, it can’t be half as bad as mine…’

This is such a fascinating setting and scene! The twist at the end is so unexpected. Nicely done!

Thank you, Connolly. I myself didn’t even know it would end this way when I started writing this scene… 🙂

Travis Claiborne squatted beside his father’s grave as he pulled a small bottle of scotch out of his pocket. He twisted open the cap, raised it in salute, took a small swig, then dumped the remainder on his father’s grave. Christopher “CC” Claiborne would have shaken his head in disgust over the waste, but Travis couldn’t drive around with an open bottle of liquor in his pocket, no matter how small the container, and he wasn’t about to take another drink. He liked scotch well enough, but with medical testing on the agenda, alcohol wasn’t a good idea.
“Pop, you were a screw up, but I sure do miss you.” He ran his fingers over his dad’s name, the letters rough and the spaces between smooth under his touch. Ten years. Sometimes he still reached for the phone to call him, tell him the latest shenanigans his bonehead Marines had gotten into, then remembered. The pain was much less these days, but still there.
He got to his feet, stuffed the bottle into his pocket and hugged his leather jacket tighter. The brisk wind and near-freezing temperatures had unsettled him, but as dawn gave way to the day, the wide Texas sky reassured him, a reminder of happy times. From the top of the hill where he stood, Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery’s 640 acres rolled away in all directions, dull brown grass trimmed neat and short. To his left, Mountain Creek Lake glittered, empty of fishing boats today as white caps ruffled the surface. CC, an avid fisherman, would have gone out anyway, waves be damned. Travis would have gone with him. Directly below him and across a small pond, a large crowd gathered around a uniformed man speaking into a microphone. His voice, amplified by a poor audio system, crackled and echoed over the rows of white headstones. Although the words weren’t clear, Travis could sense the emotions – pride, loss and longing. His gaze shifted to the right of the ceremony site to a section where cremated remains were buried and marked with flat stones. Hers was there somewhere. He’d gone to the information kiosk and located the section. It didn’t surprise him she would choose to be cremated then put in the ground instead of an above-ground columbarium. She’d lived to be outside.

You did a nice job of describing the scenery here. I will note that your decision to include “his father’s grave” in both of the first two sentences made it feel like you wanted to ensure readers knew the scene took place in a cemetery, but, as the story went on, the description of the scenery like it was more successfully integrated into the plot.

Veronica Camden had heard New Zealand was a stunning country full of awe-inspiring vistas.
Definitely true. She’d sucked in a sharp breath at the sight of her host, tall-as-a-mountain, Mack Darlington.
In soft worn denims hanging from narrow hips and tousled collar-length dark hair, he was a panacea for jet-lagged eyes.
A tourist hot-spot all his own.
On a cloudy spring afternoon, half an hour from the airport, along a track that snaked the base of a blueish mountain range, Mack rattled his dilapidated Land Rover through a once impressive set of iron gates, pulling up in front of a sprawling stone homestead elbowing for space amongst row upon row of grape vines.
‘As you see, this place is far removed from what you’re used to.’
She couldn’t see his eyes but detected a challenge in his tone.
‘I’ll manage.’ The rusty door groaned and she tumbled out of the cab, into a cloud of settling dust in her three-inch Jimmy Choo heels. Yeah, very convincing.
Mack reached to steady her arm. ‘Sure?’
Veronica pulled away and shook off the feathery tingle on her arm where his hand had been. ‘Does the place have a name?’
‘Mystery Mountain.’
‘Mystery Mountain Vineyard,’ she repeated. ‘Mmm, certainly has a ring to it.’
‘It was abandoned for ten years, so it needs taming. Quite a challenge.’
‘And you’re into collecting challenges?’ She didn’t mean to think out aloud.
He stopped, dropped her pink cases then bent to her height, slowly lifting his dark shades. ‘Let’s get one thing straight. You’re an obligation. I owe your brother a favour, that’s all. Two weeks then you’re back to being his problem, Princess Ronni.’ He placed his glasses in his top pocket.
She ignored the spike of warning in his dove-grey eyes.
Exiled to the temporary care of the only man her brother trusted, she allowed him some reticence. Under Mack’s watchful eye and two weeks roughing it, her brother hoped she’d get a taste of their future without luxuries, come to her senses then gladly fall in line with his plans for her convenient marriage.
Well, not until she’d lived a little.
‘Why did you choose the back of beyond to live? Hiding or maybe healing a wounded heart?’ There she goes again thinking out aloud.
Mack stopped at the front door. ‘Thanks for your concern about my heart but apparently, I don’t have one.’
On impulse, she placed her palm flat on his chest.
Her stomach did a little skip as warmth and strong beats pulsed under her fingertips. ‘Apparently, true. I feel nothing,’ she lied.
Mack grinned and the sun finally peeked out…

I like the way you described the gates and the beauty of New Zealand; however, I wish we had a better sense of what the homestead looks like. How many floors is it? Is just a flat gray?

Pausing briefly at the street corner, Anna felt somewhat shielded by the swaying shadows of the sycamore trees overhead. Silly, because everyone approaching could still see her as they came from all directions towards the church. Small beads of perspiration were starting to form between her shoulder blades and on her forehead. She blamed the warm June sun, but she knew her nerves were also at play.
Approaching the steps to the grand old church, white steeple piercing the sky, she inhaled the fragrant honeysuckle. The scent momentarily transported her back to her childhood and her grandmother’s porch where the familiar scent could always be found on hot summer days. With that scent also came memories of Tom, memories that suddenly gave rise to goosebumps on her skin, despite the heat.
Merging with the flow of wedding guests, Anna willed herself to take one step at a time. She offered a simple smile as people met her gaze. Slipping off to the side as she entered the church, barely escaping the notice of the ushers, she found a pew towards the back. Careful not to knock off the gaudy hot pink bow that hung precariously on the end of the pew, she managed to slip in.
“Anna?” the warm, rich tones of his voice told her exactly who was behind her before she ever turned around to see his face.
“Tom. Fancy meeting you here!” she tried to sound pleasantly surprised, even as she cringed inside at being so easily noticed by the one man she was so desperately trying to avoid.

You’ve integrated details of both the setting and your heroine’s state of mind to conjure the scene vividly. Well done!

Thank you so much. I am really enjoying these Writing Challenges and feel like I am learning a lot. Thanks again for the feedback!

The jagged red ledge rubbed up against the tender skin of her back. She inched along. The air was dry and dusty and full of heat, like an oven, but comforting. Which was why she always came here. A beautiful vista met her eyes and palliated her. She drank it in. Sedona. Where she always wanted to be. Deep red rocks, almost shining in the bright day, brilliant and burning, her arms, her face, were getting more tinged by the moment. But let the heat come. You could almost hear the sizzle as the mountain heated up in this piece of the desert. She began to sweat as a blessed peace settled upon her. Like an entrance to a new and better place. This was right. What she was doing was right. A pebble plummeted down into the canyon. She kept moving.

“Phoenix don’t! Don’t move! Stay right where you are!” She saw her beloved counsellor coming down the path. Alone. He was coming up the uneven walkway slowly, deliberately, keeping his balance as the stray rocks seem to be everywhere.

Her heart caught up in her throat, almost making her slip from the scant ledge she was perched upon. “You won’t be able to help me Phil. Why did you come? she bellowed.

“I know you Phoenix. I knew you would come here. You love these rocks. Let me help.” The melodious essence that had comforted many of her traumas and panic reached her ears and her soul.

“Why won’t you let me go?” she said almost pleading.
“You know I won’t do that,” his voice was strong like a father, worried.

She looked at the erudite face of her beloved Phil, blue eyes which mirrored her own. Rare eyes, and knew she needed to free him from the burden.

“I’m too much work Phil. You deserve better.”

“No!” he said passionately. “You deserve better. You.
Come back to me. Come back to me and we will work it out.”

Her face lightened and her smile spread. Her counsellor, her mentor..her lifeline in this hell, was here, was with her. She wasn’t alone.
“You promise?” Phoenix said.
“I promise.”
She slowly inched and clawed her way back, catching hold of what was extended. A hand. Such a simple gesture. Done every day. But not with Phoenix. This was the first time anybody ever did that with her. A hand within a hand. Comfort welling up, enough.

Nice description of both setting and action! Tip: reading your work aloud can highlight places you can eliminate repetition to keep the pacing tight and the tension of your scene high. Thanks for writing!

Thank you so much. I went with an idea. But I see what you mean. Make it more exciting and tighter. I will work on that. I enjoy these challenges so much. Feel like I’m getting some better skills.

Laura walked into the smoky bar that evening. She pulled her pink jacket close around her rail thin body. She could feel the chill of the air conditioner through her light black leggings and her small matching black boots stuck to the sticky, spilt beer encrusted floor as she made her way to the back.

She coughed out some of the tobacco smoke and another type of smoke. If the local patrol officer decided to check on this small hole in the wall tonight, there would be plenty of misdemeanors handed out for possession and a few felonies for the harder stuff the bikers were always good for.

A trio of heavy set middle aged men in leather from head to toe squatted on a few of the wooden bar stools which had also seen better days. Their tattoos and jacket insignia identified them as a cross country gang known to be rough but not lethal. Laura was grateful for the expected quiet night.

She walked into the bathroom and her nose wrinkled at the smell of a room in desperate need of a cleaning or at the very least a spray of freshener. She pulled a rough paper sheet from the pile and turned on the cold water. The cool fluid ran over her hands as she rubbed them together with a bit of soap for a few minutes before shaking the water droplets away into the sink and grabbing another.

She pulled the lever of the heavy door and walked back to the stock room. Laura scanned the group of cardboard boxes stacked in front of her. She ran her fingers across the dusty address labels and found the one she wanted. Fishing a knife from her pocket, she flipped open the blade. The tape crackled as she separated and opened the flaps. There was what she had been waiting for. And it had only taken five attempts to finally get it here. Wonderful, she thought. And the night is still young.

You’ve selected important details to communicate both setting and situation, although I think you could have gone even further and left out the bathroom description. Trust your readers and your own writing – you’ve told us a lot with the rest of the scene – good job!

Happy Street was just that. Everything on the street was there to make one feel—well—happy. Kiosks lined both sides of the street, filled with happiness. One sold cotton candy, big fluffy cotton candy that looked like a pink or blue bouffant hairdo. Another sold pretzels, their slightly charred smell filling the air, competing only with the smell of the freshly popped popcorn, the freshly made fudge or the grilling hotdogs. Just walking down the street made Prince Roger’s stomach growl, and he usually avoided unsophisticated treats like that. Hotdogs! Fudge! He usually ate gourmet treats, like crepes or beignets. Around the corner, there was a store that sold them, too.

The sights were made for happiness, and the sounds as well. Vendors sold balloons, stuffed animals and multicolored variations of flashlights to wave at parades and fireworks. A barbershop quartet sang “Sweet Adeline,” interrupted only by the clanking of a horse-drawn carriage’s bell. The only sound that was unpleasant was the sound of random toddlers throwing tantrums because their parents did not buy them what they wanted.

“I want cotton candy!” one child screamed, throwing herself on the ground and pitching a fit.

“The last thing that child needs is more sugar,” said Roger. “Papa, this is why I am in no hurry to get married. All these married people are miserable. They spend all day scraping children off the ground and telling them to hush.”

“Hush yourself,” said King Victor. “Do you think you behaved when you were two? You don’t behave now and you’re almost thirty. Now push Grandmama for a few minutes, my back is killing me.”

Roger took the wheelchair and pushed the Queen Mother of the Kingdom of Le Monde up the cobblestone road. It wasn’t easy. Up ahead was a castle—fake, of course—and a princess in front of it. She was beautiful. She had long flaxen hair, a shining golden tiara with gems— also fake, of course— a flowing purple dress, which was real but probably polyester. Still, when you are 99 years old with a bit of dementia, you can no longer tell apart the real and the fake.

“There she is!” shouted Queen Isabelle. “There she is! Princess Charmaine! The woman you’re going to marry! Oh, she looks just like she did in the movie!” Princess Charmaine was posing with a frat boy,who probably thought he was being funny. Why would an adult male pose with a “princess?” Americans had such poor taste sometimes, thought Roger.

“I hope he didn’t propose to her,” said Isabelle. “You’d better get on that line.”

The frat boy reached back and pinched the “princess” on the butt. She smacked him.

“I don’t think she accepted his proposal,” said Roger. “Not at all.”

I love how you’ve included bits of dialogue and your characters’ thoughts to help describe the scene. You’ve created a setting with detail and humor. Don’t be afraid to let the action tell the story – your scene with the toddler doesn’t need the sentence before explaining what’s happening. I really want a hot dog now!

She heard the pickup before she saw it, its motor straining to pull the steep incline, its protest loud against a quiet countryside that saw few vehicles. Panic constricted Hallie Griffin’s chest and squeezed the breath from her lungs. They’d found her.
Frozen she watched the unfamiliar red truck crest the nearby hill, the afternoon sunlight bouncing off its windshield, its driver taking it slow and easy on the loose gravel.
No, Hallie assured herself, it was only a stranger passing through. Except her aunt’s house was last on a road leading to nowhere.
More than likely, she reasoned, it was just another company man coming back to badger her ailing aunt with a new offer. Except the other reps had roared up to the farm in white, heavy-duty SUVs, their company’s logos all but obliterated by splatters of coal dust mixed with mud. Busy men who ignored the No Trespassing sign. Arrogant men certain everyone and everything had a price.
Forcing herself to draw a steadying breath, Hallie returned to her task of spreading fresh straw over the oozing muck in the barnyard. There was no reason for her to keep jumping at shadows. It had been over a year….

Great job with this challenge Carolyn! I can really see your setting, which is wonderful. Next time you might want to also play with the sense of smell – countrysides are perfect for this!

Thank you for your time and encouragement. I agree with Wendy about learning from the writing challenges as well as the feedback.

Summertime on the farm has a particular smell; a mixture of humid earth and manure with sweet, floral notes of alfalfa. Andy inhaled deeply through the open windows of his car. He had not been back to Peacock Manor in fifteen years, but this smell always took him back. Sometimes it caught him by surprise, the scent of fresh cut hay or tilled earth, and he was twenty-two again. The smells took him back to that summer. Back to dust floating in a lazy sunbeam peeking through cracks in the barn wall and chilly mornings cupping a mug of coffee between his hands and listening to the creek that ran behind the bunkhouse. That summer had changed him.
He crested a hill and the pastures came into view. Tidy fence posts with tight grid wire stretched out to the horizon. Beyond the border was grass so perfect you could fall into it and sleep. He rounded a tight curve and the house emerged at the end of the long driveway. His foot hesitated on the gas pedal, losing his nerve, but he continued toward the iron gate.
A solid white peacock perched there, staring down, his majestic feathers swirling around him like a fountain. It let out a piercing cry and flew into an oak tree. The first time Andy heard that noise, like a keening wail, he thought someone was dying. The other peafowl joined in, announcing his presence. The gate opened, and Andy drove through.

This excerpt is really beautiful – and you’ve achieved the setting being it’s own character amazingly here! I can really feel where your character is here. Your next challenge would be to weave this amazing setting into your story so it all blends in wonderfully. Great job!

Before opening her eyes, Quinn feels that pit in her stomach, “what have I done” she whispers to herself. Roni was asleep when she got back to the room, the first night of their girlfriends weekend, so with any luck; she will never have to admit last night out loud to anyone.

She can smell him as she stands up, she glances at the clock walking toward the bathroom, shading her eyes from the prying sun. She has precisely 24 minutes to get down to breakfast, the six of them have plans to go sightseeing today.

The sweet smell of flowers mixed with sugar and the ocean envelops her as she walks in, already sweating but reminding herself this view is worth it. Based on the looks she is getting nothing she did last night went unnoticed, the coy smiles and giggles from the table told her everything she needed to know.

“Hey girl, how late did you stay out last night?” Quinn knew the inquisition would be relentless. All her friends were married, so they live vicariously through her, which is rather annoying truth be told.

This is a really intriguing passage that’s left me wanting to know more! The description is working really well here, especially your use of the sense of smell, it’s really evocative. You might also want to describe more about her movements to highlight when she’s in a different location to make that a bit clearer. Great job!

“They say it’s bad luck,” Petal lied. “Letting a Fairy die without her shoes on.” She blinked past the cold, then sharpened her gaze to find a dark circle against the white expanse. An old, perfectly drilled hole for ice fishing. Petal pressed her elbows against the ice and dragged her numb hips towards the circle’s edge.

On this side of the frozen river, the ice was too thin for them to risk coming any further. Plus, the well-dressed gang of eight who’d chased her out here was already spooked enough that they’d given her a wide enough berth for her to escape hoping the frigid temps did the dirty deed for them.

Their boss, Millicent, didn’t believe in the old ways. “Honestly, Petal. You’re a Summer Fairy,” she shouted from the pier. “If you touch the water in this cold, we’re talking twelve seconds, tops. Do you hear that, Petal? You won’t last a minute.” A devilish lilt tinged Millicent’s appeal. “Now, be reasonable and climb aboard.”

Petal wrinkled her nose against the chill and the sharp scent of pine. She wiggled her toes above the dark hole, already losing sensation. If she timed it just right, her wings wouldn’t stick to the ice.

“This is ridiculous.” Millicent tossed the ballet slippers onto the ice. “If you want to freeze to death, that’s fine by me.”

Petal’s hand shook violently, but she grabbed the silk-wrapped pair by the ribbons. Since she’d jump ship without any tools to customize, there was only time for the basics. She hammered the pink, satin tips flat against solid ice until they stood, level on their own.

“One last time.” Petal’s breath moved in white puffs.

With lightning speed, Petal extended her wings for balance, whipped her legs over the hole and plunged hip-deep into the frigid water. Shock cramped her fingers against the ice and arched her soles down below.

One powerful flap of her wings and she soared up and out of the ice, thighs pressed together in a long line. Wrapped in pink silk, her feet stayed arched, on pointe. Climbing quickly, cold ate through her bones. First claiming her toes, up to her ankles, her calves, knees and thighs when her muscles locked into place. Their ice encasement caught moonlight and sparkled.

Her shoulders shivered against the chill but, with an absence of pain, Petal closed her eyes and embraced a sudden truth. Stretching her wings high on either side, her arms mirrored the movement. Each push moved with the dark, night breeze to thrust her forward until she approached the pier at full speed.

But that was the thing about Ice Fairies. Twelve seconds was far too much time for revenge. Besides, Petal only needed two.

The description in this excerpt is lovely! I was really pulled along the story and could really see your setting – which is amazing. You might want to describe a bit more about the cold – and really make the reader feel the cold. Overall this is fab – well done!

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