Start Writing Fiction: Exercise Four

Turn on the radio and take note of the first thing that is mentioned. Use it as the basis for either the start of a story or an entire story – whichever, it should be no more than 500 words. Imagine a character, someone who is central to what the story is about. Try to use clear, vivid language so that your reader can see the character. Use some of the characterisation techniques we have talked about so far.

The first thing I heard was an article about refugees and the response of French right-wing politicians to the Syrian refugee crisis. And so, this.

Samir is dressed in stained overalls and work boots, and his eyes are bruised with fatigue at this obscenely early hour. He nods his thanks to the waitress as she delivers a steaming plate of beans on toast and a mug of tea with the teabag still inside. He picks up his knife and fork, then closes his eyes and inhales. His mouth waters.

He hears footsteps approach and stop beside his table, and he opens his eyes just in time to see a thick string of spit and phlegm curl from a young man’s lips to land with a splat in his beans. The man twists his lips into a cruel smile and says, “Fuck off back to your own country. You ain’t welcome here.”

Samir gives no outward sign of his anger. “Is that the best you can do?” he sneers. “In my country, there are small children who can spit better than you.”

Samir forks up a clutch of beans decorated with thick green phlegm and a scrim of spit bubbles. Watching the young man, he puts it in his mouth and chews once, twice, then swallows. He barely tastes the young man’s addition, and the texture is overwlehlmed by the firm beans and warm, runny sauce. He’s eaten worse.

The lad’s face is a picture of disgust. “That’s fuckin’ sick!” he says.

Samir gives a small, tight smile in response. “Sit down,” he says, gesturing at the seat opposite him with his fork. “Let us talk about why you hate me so much.”

The young man hesitates for a moment, but then slips into the seat opposite.

Samir nods and puts down his knife and fork. He fishes the teabag from his mug with a spoon and squeezes it dry before neatly putting it on the side of his plate. “Did you want to spit in this as well?” he asks, tilting the mug towards the lad.

He won’t meet Samir’s eyes and his cheeks redden, but he shakes his head.

“So. I am Samir. What is your name?”

The lad doesn’t answer.

“Ah, no matter. You hate me because I am a foreigner, yes?” asks Samir. “Because you think I am here in your country, taking your benefits? Or perhaps you think I am taking your job, yes?”

“Well… yeah,” the lad replies. “Thousands of your lot are flooding into the country, and you’re like, trying to turn it into your country. And you’re taking jobs that should go to people like me.”

“Ah, so you have applied to many jobs as a cleaner of toilets, have you?” asks Samir. “On the night shift, at a tube station?”

The lad frowns and wipes at his lips with the back of his hand, but says nothing.

Samir nods and cuts off a piece of bean and spit-laden toast.

The lad puts his hand on Samir’s wrist as he goes to lift the bite to his lips. “Don’t,” he says, quietly. “I’ll pay for a fresh plate.”

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