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Person, Place, Thing

As humans, we love stories: by telling them we teach, by listening to them, we learn. Creative Writing Challenges help…

  • Ready to write? We’ll give you a new challenge each Monday. Publish a new post on your blog that interprets the challenge. Include a pingback and we’ll list your post below. Learn More

As humans, we love stories: by telling them we teach, by listening to them, we learn. Creative Writing Challenges help you to push your writing boundaries, pad your writing toolkit, and improve your writing skills.

To participate, tag your post with DPchallenge or leave a link to your post in the comments. Your post should be specifically written in response to this challenge. We’ll keep an eye on the tag and highlight some of our favorite posts on Freshly Pressed on Friday.

Back in January, I wrote a challenge called The Devil is in the Details. In that post, I asked you to imagine a scene and describe it in vivid detail: the sights, the sounds, the smells, the location, the way the light fell — each detail designed to bring the scene into ever-sharpening focus in the reader’s mind.

This week’s challenge was inspired by Candice Fox’s recent post, Over the Wall, in which she encourages writers to “collect people, places, and things” in a bid to overcome writer’s block:

The best tales are out there, written in lives too mundane to make the page – instances that have no heroic journey or moral but that might, gathered together and strung along by you, make a good story. Collect people, places, things. Journal them or simply store them in tiny drawers with labels in your mind. Be a watcher. A listener. A student of everything. As I sit writing this in a cafe in Maroubra, an old couple sit near me, waiting for their tea, silently watching the sun dance between the moving cars outside, the lanky Indian waiter strolling around, filling little canisters on the tables with sugar packets. They’re not suited to what I’m writing now, these two, but they might be one time when I’m struggling to fill a cafe with people: I’ll remember her jutting sheep teeth and maud sunglasses hung with string, his pancake ears and cheap loafers. I’ll remember the things they say to each other, her fear of burning herself on the teapot as she pours, shaking, his grumbling one-sentence answers.

“I’ll remember her jutting sharp teeth…his pancake ears and cheap loafers…” Fox’s description is embedded in my brain and I can picture this couple, and immediately, I want to know their story. I want to write their story: how they met when she was 16 and he was 24 — she was a carhop at the A&W drive-in on Main Street, in Winnipeg who served him a root beer and an order of fries. He thought she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen, but he’d just gotten married…

Collect a person, a place, and a thing

In today’s challenge, you’ll combine your sharp powers of observation and your vivid imagination in a bid to follow Fox’s advice and “collect people, places, and things.” With this challenge you’re going to start your collection by writing three paragraphs, one each about a person, place, and a thing. If you don’t have a loptop, you might have to go old-school and use paper and pen or a notebook to capture some details out in the field to use as a reference for when you get home.

  • Go to a local coffee shop or restaurant and observe one of the patrons. Take notes about their clothing, their hair, their age, their gender. Where are they from? What sort of work do they do? Get as many details as you can into a single paragraph about your patron.
  • Describe the coffee shop or restaurant in detail. How would you characterize it? Is it a hipster hangout or a greasy spoon? Somewhere in between? Has it just opened up or has it been on that block since before you were born? What type of people frequent the place? Working class folks? The power suit-and-tie set? What’s hanging on the walls? Is it 30 years of grease or awesome local art? Describe the place in as much detail as you can pack into a paragraph.
  • Choose one item in the coffee shop or restaurant — it could be the ornate, heavy silver spoon you stirred your coffee with, it could be the soiled menu written in Comic Sans, or the ancient cash register that sits by the door — make that thing come alive in one paragraph. Where did it come from? Who made it? How old is it? Leave no detail out.

The challenge is to write three paragraphs, though you can choose to write more or less if you wish — the goal is to get you watching closely, observing, and collecting people, places, and things to use in your creative writing projects.

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      1. Just be careful. In the US they can sue for millions for the offense of “describing someone on paper.” Trust me, my 3rd cousin, Billy-Bob, is still serving time for writing the words, “The flesh of the portly gentleman’s ham hock overflowed the bar stool and dangled perilously above the parquetry.” Just don’t get caught!!

  1. This sounds fun but it’s going to be hard in only fifty words. I’ll still give it a go though. Back soon…

      1. No, the fifty words thing is my own restriction. My blog’s called Fifty Words a Day, it’s a flash fiction thing I challenged myself to at the start of the year. You can write as many words as you like, and you can post as soon as it’s done. I’ll look out for yours. Happy writing!

      2. Oh I see. Thanks for clearing that up. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post something. Have other stuff to get done as well. But I’ll love to put something in.

        Anyway, good luck with your blog and this challenge. And thanks again for replying.

  2. I’m sorry but ‘Person, Place, Thing’ sounds somewhat anodyne. I’m not tempted. Are these so-called ‘challenges’ aimed at wannabes? Check out ‘Sex N’ Drugs N’ Sausage Rolls’, my ongoing and exponentially-growing collection of short stories (with multimedia – including my music). I’m certainly NOT anodyne – and I can WRITE (as well as sing, write songs, take photos, paint and more…). You might see what I mean, unless knitting circles are your thing. http://steveswind.wordpress.com/about

  3. Person, he looks about fifty years old. Quiet, his glasses give away a hidden intellectual ability. Maybe a teacher or perhaps a police officer.
    Thing, A Viking hat on top of a bookshelf. Further down some stuffed animals, a frog and I think that’s Nemmo. A potted plant growing crazily, someone must be watering it every morning. Wonder who?
    Location, Cyber café Mcreless San Antonio, almost six o’clock.

    1. Hi Tucked, there is no limit — we recommended a paragraph each for a person, place, and thing though you can write more or less if it suits you:

      The challenge is to write three paragraphs, though you can choose to write more or less if you wish — the goal is to get you watching closely, observing, and collecting people, places, and things to use in your creative writing projects.

  4. Love it! I asked an english teacher in highschool that very same question. Her response was and will always be one of my favorites!
    “Once you have existed in the same place with another person, whatever happens to you, however you feel, that becomes yours. The simplicity of another person being in a room with you changes both of your lives forever.” -Mrs. Bonjour

  5. Prior to reading the exact details of the prompt, I wrote a description of a person. But then, after reading the guidelines (3 paragraphs – person, place and thing) I realized my post did not fit the requirements.

    I will try to cover this… but for me to sit at a café or restaurant is a challenge. I need to ride the dinghy to the beach, and lately the surf has been hectic, so beach landings can become beach crashings… As I get organized to actually write the correct piece here is the link to the initial post: http://mycyberhouserules.com/2013/04/16/a-chosen-blanket/

  6. I don’t know, I feel that this challenge sounds slightly restricting in the perimeters it sets. Furthermore, I have noticed that most of the Weekly Writing Challenges may be difficult to incorporate in a blog that does not necessarily focus on the life of the writer. But these are just my thoughts :)

47 Responses Ready to write? To participate, publish a post on your blog that responds to the prompt. Include a pingback and we’ll list your post below. Learn More