Writing Prompt Workshop #1 – Sensory Relay

Hey, everybody.

This week, I thought I’d start a new series, which I’m calling “The Writing Prompt Workshop.”

I’m finally about to wrap up the outline for my rewrite of Memory, my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel, I figured now was the time to get a little practice in.

Also, I’m just wildly pumped to actually write prose again instead of editing and outlining. So pumped, in fact, that I’m bringing my habit of making up weird writing prompts to House of Error.

And for the very first prompt of the series, I’m going to try to use one sense to elicit a reaction from a different sense entirely, which I’m calling “The Sensory Relay Prompt.” Just as an example, it’s like trying to describe a smell that makes a reader feel cold. I have no idea how successful I’ll be, but I’ll do my best not to cheat.

Also, this will definitely be longer on my end than it will be for you, because I’m only going to post what I feel are successes, and those successes are probably just going to be a sentence or two each. Whatever snippets I post will have the senses I tried to evoke beneath them.

That said, here we go.

The sky was a muted grey–a mottled, old canvas, crossed and circled by shadow-dark seagulls. He barely heard them over the crash of waves, spray hissing as it rode the wind.

Sight to Touch.

Sound to Touch.

We’re talking temperature here. Not sure if that’s too easy, but hey, it’s a start.

The slow sway of the leaves smelled like rain. Like soil made tender by a storm.

Smell to Touch. Trying to evoke my favorite kind of cool, Spring breeze.

Specifically though, I wanted to give the sense of stepping on soft soil with the second sentence. Incredibly hard to do without saying “soft.” Definitely cheating in the end with “tender,” but man, I must’ve written “that gives under foot” ten different ways.

Okay. Enough nature talk. And enough “[Whatever] to Touch.”

She slipped immediately, feet sliding until she splashed into the stream burbling through the sewer access pipe. It was so warm.


You okay?”

She looked up at him. “How could I be?” And then she was doing her best to find some part of the pipe that her hands didn’t slip away from.

Touch / Sound to Smell.

But how the bread looked didn’t matter the moment it reached his tongue. It was almost sharp, poking his pallet until he maneuvered it. The only thing that made it food was a whisper of yeast, so light on his tongue that he wasn’t sure if he was smelling it or tasting it.

But then, he was hanging onto that phantasmal almost-flavor, because when he bit into it, it crumbled into a gravel so course his jaw stuttered.

Taste / Touch to Sound? Totally reliant on that last sentence to maybe invoke an insane crunch, but I . . . definitely got carried away. Sorry not sorry; I just love describing bad food. I do not know why—I’m just fucking owning it.

Maintenance waxed the floor with something that was sharp in her nose. A chemical tinge she blew back out instinctively, so tacky that it refused to be exhaled.

A sterile sheen that clung to her heels with every step.

Smell / Touch to Sound.

Man, Smell to Sound is the hardest thing in the world to convey. It seriously took me an hour to get those three sentences, and I wound up cheating in the end.

The paper smell hit him first as the bag settled on his head, holes–cut by a rounded scissors–not quite lining up with his eyes, no matter how hard he fidgeted. At one point, he tried whipping it around and down with a quick roll and snap of his head, but when it settled, the eyes had switched, left oval in place, right oval somewhere up at his eyebrow–only his own breath rushing out of both.

Smell / Touch to Sound.

Had to try for Smell to Sound one last time, but it is next level rough.


Okay. Well, that was extremely fun for me and I immediately kind of love this series.

Thanks for joining me. I know this may have been a weird, short post, but I highly recommend trying this Sensory Relay Prompt as a way to flex the descriptive muscles.

If you’re new here, I post every Sunday. If you like, you can give me a Follow on the Sidebar to the left (on PC), or the drop down menu on the top right (on mobile). Or just drop on by!

But either way, be safe, get vaccinated, and to all the moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 14: The Diner Challenge

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.14.14Where I Wrote: The worst diner in my neighborhood.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Not bad. There was a bit of pressure today; I had a lot I had to take care of (thus my taking a personal challenge I’d never even considered for NaNoWriMo), so I was a little rushed, but that didn’t translate into tearing through 1667 words in the short time I had. Instead, I made sure that what I got down worked and I stopped the moment I hit a set piece I’d missed with my brainstorming. At that point, I was anxious to get to other responsibilities I had today anyway.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Almost the instant yesterday’s session was over, I knew where to take today’s session. It was one of the rare cases when only a moment of brainstorming yielded the next plot point. I sat down super ready to go.

The Experience: I have a serious fear of making people uncomfortable.

It’s tied directly to how uneasy it makes me to ask for favors. The reason’s pretty personal, but I grew up with a special hate for feeling like a burden.

So there are certain things that I hate doing to people in public. For one, there’s taking pictures that people happen to be in; I’ve briefly mentioned not taking pictures of writing spots because there were too many people there. At the Pine Tree Cafe in the Botanical Gardens, I tried to take a few pictures from my seat, but in the very first one, I caught a guy just as he was slurping up some soup, eyes directly on me with a look that dripped, “Seriously?” I must’ve chanted, “Nope nope nope,” for a good ten seconds as I deleted it, put my tablet down, and honestly tried to convince myself that I hadn’t been taking pictures–really.

So, what does this have to do with today? Well, I woke up at a good hour, but, more than any other day of NaNoWriMo, today was just… jam-packed with time-devouring responsibilities. First, there was NaNoWriMo, usually a block of about six hours on my daily schedule. Then, there was a need to put in more hours at work, a task requiring, in my mind, literally all the time that I could possibly devote to it (I’m working as I write this). But, on top of all of that, there was also the modifier of a planned gaming session that I really wish I’d known would fall through (although I got back the hours I thought I’d lose to that, so I can’t really complain, I suppose).

So, knowing all of this–waking up needing a solution–I tried to think of where I could write that would save me at least three hours. That meant Manhattan was out, which didn’t help because other spots I considered in the Bronx were far enough away that picking them still wouldn’t free up enough time.

The solution finally came when I thought of a spot I actually wanted to go to that also wasn’t far away; a diner that recently opened here in the Bronx. It was enticing, but then I thought, maybe that would be really awkward and unproductive? I mean, the wait staff would see me writing and want me out of their section. I’d feel like such a burden. Gah. Could I do that? Could I even write in a diner?

Ohhhhhhh… Yep. Yep, that’s it.

The Diner Challenge is what I named it. The noise, the wait staff that’s either so pleasant that they don’t stop talking or so stand-off-ish that you can tell they’re trying to psychically will you to leave. There was also the matter of possible televisions, the guaranteed jabber of radios, the need to order and the distracting food directly in your face. By the time I left my apartment, I was oddly excited, even though I chose the worst diner in my neighborhood (to save more time and because it felt more appropriate for the challenge somehow).

When I got there, the awkwardness, though slow to arrive, was very constant once it did. It was not the television or the radio. Not the wait staff’s outdoor-voice rapport with the kitchen staff. Somehow, loud talking and noise are old distractions, easily defeated now unless they’re truly obnoxious.

No, the awkwardness arrived when I realized that they thought I was a food critic–or possibly a health inspector. I don’t know if it’s because I was alone or because of the tablet. There’s a good chance it was just because of the clear, accent-less enunciation that confuses everyone (“Are you Paki, my friend?” I’ve gotten. Also, “You from the Islands, man?” No. No, I probably don’t even know what islands you’re talking about).

Regardless, they were way, way more attentive than they ever have been at that diner. This I did not expect, making it way more awkward than I’d expected.

But I still persevered–still ordered my food and eventually got over the reflex to just keep watching them watch me watch my tablet screen. Eventually, I shifted my coffee to the side and started working.

And then jumped when my waitress told me, literally, “Okay! Time to stop working!” as she brought my food over. And then asked, “Is that work? Are you working?”

“No,” I said. And then, with what I’m sure wasn’t a convincingly innocent fear in my eyes, I added, “I’m just writing.” The moment I said it, I realized it wouldn’t help matters at all.

Still, I went back to my story. Slowly worked through my need to just eat the french fries right in front of me (they were so good), and got back to working on my story. I did, in fact, change the description of yesterday’s set piece and then went on to write a few pages that felt extremely natural. So natural that they changed the course of the plot very slightly and led to the next set piece a little earlier than intend–

“Do you need wi-fi?” It was the owner.

I almost asked a confused, “What?” in reply, but I rallied. “No, thank you. I’m good.”

The owner went on to explain that they had wi-fi, me sitting there, nodding and cringing inside. I wanted to say, “I promise I’m not here to rate your amenities.” Instead I wound up confessing, “No, I’m just writing a novel,” with enough manufactured calm that it only made me sound like slightly less of a douche bag.

But, at that point, the danger was gone. The owner added a convincing, “You can stay as long as you like, buddy,” but my waitress never again asked if I needed anything. It allowed me to finish up–to get to a point when I was sure it was better to stop for quality and responsibility’s sakes (some time after my waitress idly wiped down a part of my table while I was still sitting there).

The verdict: diners, at least for me, will probably always be too awkward to write in. Maybe I’ll try again after NaNoWriMo–I’ve definitely been determined to challenge my defeats when it comes to writing lately. But I’m… pretty sure diners will remain as spots that are only good for hammering out quick emails.

Unless there’s some kind of… writer… friendly diner?

Excuse me. I must google a thing.