Writing Exercise: Two Men Leave a Building

The following is a writing exercise I tried my hand at this morning. Eh. I would say it needs work, but really I don’t think it’s worth the effort. I started with something vaguely amusing and turned it into something nefarious and violent, and then started going back to humorous. The prompt, from the book Now Write! edited by Sherry Ellis, comes from the writer Allison Mattison. In it, she tells you to imagine two people coming out of a building. She says you instantly know something about these people, and a story will come out along with the people. It’s true. I instantly pictured a guy in a fish costume and another guy…well, just read. Not my brightest day, but then, this isn’t the forum for me to complain, only write.

Two People Come Out of a Building and Into a Story

High-rise office building. Sleek glass. Big city. Early afternoon. Plaza outside office building crowded with pedestrians minding their own business, heading this way and that. Busy intersection.

Out of the building walk two men. One of them is a fish. Actually, a man in a fish costume. Kind of a red-and-yellow foam costume, with green tinge in the scales and gills and pink and green dorsal and caudal fins. With black loafers poking through the fish’s anus, trying to walk.

The other man is in a white button-down shirt with periwinkle blue tie. Black khakis, ironed just for the occasion. Hairy arms, curly hair, wide-jawed with a five-o’clock shadow making a premature appearance. Green eyes with some wrinkles around them—he’s in his mid-thirties.

We can’t tell the fish’s age. But he’s got this hangdog look about him, that much is obvious.

The not-fish is guiding the fish by discreetly (why discreetly?) clutching him under his right lateral fin.

“Screw them anyway. It wasn’t for you.”

Fish says nothing.

“How long had you been there?” Pause to listen. “Eh, well. Two years is enough. You’re on to bigger and better things. You thought about public access cable?”

Fish looks at him.

“Yeah, OK, so TV’s not for you. I get it. Human interaction. We should get you a job as a bartender. You know I hear there are people that drink like a fish, so maybe—OK, OK, sorry. That was insensitive.”

Fish looks down at sidewalk as they reach the corner and his friend (brother?) presses the button to cross.

“You know, did it ever occur to you that the corporate ladder wasn’t for you?” Pause. “Yeah, you’re a creative type. You were never going to get anywhere in that kind of environment.”

Long hard stare from fish.

“No, I’m not making any cracks about swimming upstream. I’m just saying the corporate ladder wasn’t made for you.” Pause. Eyes squint in a tight little grin. “Now a fish ladder—“

Fish starts wailing on his companion as companion tries to curl into a defensive ball while standing. “Hey, stop that!” Lateral fins go flying, slapslapslapslapslap. “C’mon now, I was only trying to cheer you up buddy—“ Slapslapslap “—chum!—“ Fish jumps and does a half-twist, slaps him with his powerful caudal fin. The man staggers backwards, choking on a laugh, then stumbles back into a lady waiting at the light and falls by her feet, on his ass, clutching the hem of her gray wool business skirt.

“Hey, watch it asshole!” the female shouts.

The fish falls on him, flopping wildly as he continues to slap his companion around. He jabs with his head and bites. Fish can have sharp teeth.

“Police!” she shouts. People turn to look, even though the light is green for them and the sign is telling them to walk. People on the other side of the street are walking, interested to see what is occurring with the fish, or oblivious to it.

“OK, buddy, OK! Enough!” The man looks up in disgust, tries to get himself up off the ground. “We should get outta here.”

The fish stands back and looks over his shoulder. People are watching him, but that’s not what he’s looking for. There: across the street, the lady his friend fell into is talking to a mounted police officer and gesturing at them.

He looks back at his friend, who is on his feet again and dusting himself off. The man looks where the fish was just looking, sees the mounted officer heading their way. “Aww Jesus, let’s go!”

They round the corner and dash across the street—he sprinting, the fish skipping as best he can—and down a side street and into a crowd of people.

The mounted officer blows a whistle, starts into a full gallop, but he doesn’t get very far.

Because the explosion happens.

The eighteenth floor of the office building blows out in a fireball of glass and metal and copier paper. The concussion of the blast knocks a lot of people down, including the mounted officer and the scared horse on which he is mounted.

We caught him, your honor.

You caught him. What? The fish?

The suit, sir. He shed it as he was getting away.

Fish don’t molt, sergeant.

He was with someone else.

Another fish?

No, a person. A man. Late thirties. Caucasian—

And have you checked the security cameras? Do you have any idea where they went?

They were last seen jumping down a basement chute at as Chinese restaurant a block away. The restaurant says two guys landed in their basement and ran up the stairs.

Into the restaurant?

No, there’s a hallway. The building has another staircase leading up from the basement to a hallway. There’s St. James on the first floor next to the restaurant, and a corridor with a stairway leading to the upper floors.

St James—?

Elementary, yes your honor.

A school.

We think they escaped from the back door, from St. James.

This is ridiculous.

We’ll get them, your honor. We have them on camera. We have their DNA.

You think this is a joke?

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  1. The story needs work, you’re right! Personalize the characters and make them available for the readers by giving them something they can identify to! I do not understand the characters. A fish? Not sure who that represents.

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