Prepared by: Carter Jefferson
Reposted, revised, on: February 27, 2011
Exercise: In 400 words or less, create the first scene of a story, novel, or creative non-fiction essay. Let fire play a significant part in that opening, and show its effect on the characters.
Fire can keep us warm or force us out into the cold. It can light a birthday candle or ignite a fuse, illuminate the pages of a book or destroy a library. Like an unruly servant, it can be enormously helpful or bring on disaster. It's been so important through the ages that it used to be considered one of the four elements of which the entire cosmos consists.
Great fires like the ones in London in 1666 and Chicago in 1871 have influenced history. The Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York in 1911, which killed 146 people, 129 of them women, led to major changes in workplace regulations and, especially, conditions for female workers. Authors as different as Shirley Hazzard, Patricia Cornwell, and Nora Roberts have used fire, metaphoric or real, as backdrops for best-selling novels.
In this exercise, you must light a fire, or discover one, and show how it affects your characters. Your scene will be an opening; make sure it will leave readers anxious to know what happens next in your creation.
In your critiques, consider whether the writer has used fire effectively in the scene. Can you see how it affects the characters? Does the writer show, or tell? Would you read further to see how the story develops? Consider all aspects of the writing.
These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingworkshop.org/).