Take one of the simple settings below and write a page about it, trying to undermine the reader’s expectations. For example, you’re writing about a man at a party who is talking to a beautiful woman. What he wants is probably obvious. Try to lead the reader in a different direction by not revealing his desire up front, or by revealing a surprising motivation.
• A teenage girl climbing a rock cliff with a man below her
The cliff was slick with salt water, rain and worse from the gulls that shrieked at her from their nests, unwilling to share their niches with her even for a moment as she passed. She was so close to some of them that she could almost taste the thick, warm air coming off their bedraggled feathers.
From the bottom, the cliff looked impossibly sheer, but here, up close, she could see the tiny fractures and imperfections that were the key to her ascent. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been climbing now, but her world had quickly collapsed into the steady rhythm of putting one hand in front of the other as she searched the next safe hold and pulled herself upwards.
The rain lashed her face and slicked the sweaty hair back against her head. I’ll smell as bad as those birds by the time I reach the top, she thought as she paused for breath. She risked a look down and her head jerked back up when she saw that he was closer now, inching his way up the rock wall towards her.
The wind was howling, but she could hear his breathing as he worked his way steadily up towards her. More urgently now, she began to work her way up, reaching her fingertips above her head, looking for the next hold, probing into the cracks to see if this was the one. She heard a curse below her. Perhaps he’d seen her moving more quickly, or perhaps he’d simply slipped as he reached above his head for the next grip on the slick rock. Whatever had happened, the man did not appear to be slowed and was methodically continuing to work his way upwards towards her.
Liv knew this cliff like the back of her hand, of course. Her father used to joke that she was climbing before she could walk. First it was the bars on the side of the crib, then it was the baby gate at the top of the stairs, so it was always only going to be a matter of time before she set her mind to climbing the cliff that loomed at the bottom of the garden. Her whole family were climbers, so it was no accident that they had ended up living in that particular house. Almost as soon as she turned thirteen, and much to her father’s loudly voiced disgust but plainly visible pride, Liv started to climb without ropes. It was, of course, insanely dangerous. That was the appeal. She’d climbed this cliff a thousand times, a million times and she knew practically every route up this rock wall. Liv used to live for those long, hot days of summer when her dad would come home early and they’d head out to the cliff to see if they could find new, harder ways to get to the top.
What was at the top that was so exciting, that was worth risking life and limb for? Well, to be truthful, nothing at all. A patch of bare grass and a few disinterested sheep. That was about it. Once you reached the top, all there really was to do was to have a breather and then climb right back down again.
Liv almost smiled at the memory of those sun-dappled climbs, but she was cold, the cliff was wet, the night was drawing in and he was getting ever closer. She looked up. Another 50m to go. She wasn’t 100% sure that she was going to be able to reach the top before he reached her, and her heart started to race at the prospect of his hairy great hand grabbing hold of her ankle from below, peeling her off the cliff-face leaving her desperately pedalling at thin air before plunging downwards. She closed her eyes and swallowed deeply. Now was not the time to panic, now was the time to calmly and steadily do something she had done many, many times before. She reached upwards for her next hold, and then the next, and then the next. She steadily worked her way up the cliff. 50m to go. 45m. 40m. He was now only about 10m below her and she could hear every heavy, grunting breath he took. Where Liv was light and seemed to float her way up the sheer rock wall, he was heavy and muscular and seemed to haul himself up by sheer brute strength and force of mind. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. 30m to go. 25m. 20m. She could now hear the rustle of his clothing and the throaty, wet rasping of his breathing as re-doubled his efforts to catch her up as they both neared the top of the cliff wall.
10m to go. 5m. He was now only just below her and, with her heart in her mouth, in a final effort, Liv seemed to almost fly up the last of the cliff before disappearing over the lip and climbing up onto the grass at the top.
She drew in a deep breath and rolled over so her head was poking over the cliff edge. He was just below her, so she reached down and grabbed his outstretched hand and helped haul him up over the top and onto the plateau.
“I nearly had you that time.”
“You won’t be getting such a head start next time, I can tell you that for nothing.”
“Yep. I reckon we will.”
In spite of the rain, Liv beamed at her father with a face filled with pure happiness as they gathered themselves for the climb back down.
In the years to come, Liv would cherish this moment as the last time that she was truly happy, but she wasn’t to know that yet as she prepared to follow her father back over the cliff edge to chase him back down to the ground to the warm stew that awaited them.
Hm. Not sure about this one.