Collecting Detail

We blog for a million different reasons, but in the end, we’re all storytellers. Creative Writing Challenges are here to…

We blog for a million different reasons, but in the end, we’re all storytellers. Creative Writing Challenges are here to help you push your writing boundaries and explore new ideas, subjects, and writing styles.

To participate, tag your post with DPchallenge and include a link to this post, to generate a pingback and help others find the challenges. Please make sure your post has been specifically written in response to this challenge. We might just highlight some of our favorites on Freshly Pressed on Friday, and in our monthly newsletter.

Being a writer isn’t something you can shuck off, like a hat or a coat — being a writer is a quality that lives inside you — a part of your brain you simply can’t shut off, doing the work of the writer regardless of whether you’re out and about during your day or you’re in front of your typewriter, your screen, or your notebook.

The writer’s brain constantly collects fodder, the tiny details that enliven your writing, that help you create vivid imagery, scenes, stories, novels, and poems. In short, a writer is a writer, 24/7/365, no matter whether you’re at the grocery store, walking down your street, or on a plane. Canadian author Lisa Moore recounts a recent trip to the second-hand shop. Even though she’s in shopping mode, she’s still observing, still collecting what she calls, “the glimmer of a beginning” of a story.

Late in the afternoon, yesterday, I was in a second-hand shop, standing in front of a mirror in a dimly lit hallway outside a row of dressing rooms. There was a woman in the shadows behind me, sitting bolt straight on a sagging leather ottoman. She was wearing a blue sequined minidress. It was the blue of a propane flame, bristling with porcupine needles of spark. A tiny white price tag was dangling from the neckline, tangled in her long, dark hair. She was speaking on a cellphone. She was telling a man named Charles that she was with him: I am with you Charles. I get you. Charles. I’m there. Charles. I’m right there with you. My God Charles, I’m listening. You listen to me for a sec. I’m there.

I was standing in front of the mirror in a red wool dress that was either too tight or not too tight. But I was lost in a sudden memory from earlier in the day. More a fragment or sensation than memory. A scrap flitting through. I had been jogging by the Bow River. It was overcast when I began but the sun came out and all the yellow leaves over the wet black pavement brightened as if someone had turned a dimmer switch to full blast. The river, which had been grey, became glacial green, and a man in fluorescent spandex power-walked past me. He was speaking into a white wire hanging from his ear. He said: No, it will be fun. We just wrap our heads around the reorg.

I imagined an entire managerial team fired in the spandex power-walker’s reorg. I imagined Charles flying over the handlebars of a racing bike, landing on his back in a swirl of yellow leaves or, better still, in the green river. I remembered the man beside me on the plane with his fat red pencil drawing a line through his Seek-A-Word puzzle. The word, whose letters ran diagonally through a square of jumbled letters, turned out to be two words: catalytic converter. I imagined there would be a way to bring it all together.

When I read this passage, my mind lit up, imagining the woman on the phone, the mysterious Charles on the other end of the line, the man in spandex, and how these seemingly disparate details could form a story.

Three glimmers and at least a paragraph

In today’s challenge, you’ll turn your observational superpowers on high alert. (You might want to carry a notebook or a slip of paper and a pen to be able to capture the details when they’re fresh in your mind.) Pick three original details from encounters during your day or your week. It could be the quality of the moonlight filtering through bare oak trees on to the snow in your back yard. It could be the red of a small child’s coat against drab buildings in the inner city, the adhesive sound of car tires on a wet street, the acrid smell of wheat stubble burning in a farmer’s field. Maybe it’s the whiteblack flash and peep of a chickadee passing overhead, or the sound of a toddler giggling.

Once you’ve collected your details, your “glimmers of a beginning,” write at least one paragraph containing your original details.

Challenge yourself to keep your observational superpowers on high at all times. Be on alert for snippets of dialogue, sights, sounds, and smells that you can use in your stories, and be sure to have fun with this challenge. Can’t wait to read your original details.

This week’s challenge

To recap, here’s what to do for the challenge. As always, feel free to adapt the challenge as you see fit. The object is to get you writing:

  1. Pick three original details from encounters during your day or your week that you’ve observed.
  2. Once you’ve collected your details, your “glimmers of a beginning,” write at least one paragraph containing your original details.

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  1. Slightly unrelated; was the photo taken in Lund, Sweden? I studied there and I’m certain that’s the same corner on my daily bike route. Bolt of blue seeing that…miss that town.


  2. I look forward to starting to contribute to this blog, as I onece was doing a journalism course through AJA, however my mentor told me i was a passive writer, she did not however explain what that meant and how not to do it. As I am a photographer, I would like to enjoy writing about the subjects I am photographing, maybe one day even have it published.


  3. Driving home on the highway, I was mesmerized by the setting sun. The longer I gazed into the bright orange sun set, I thought how wonderful it is to have sight. Not only did I realize how beautiful the sun set was, I drifted into a dream of where there would be no time in space to worry or doubt. That is when I realized I was starring at the heavens.


  4. I love this challenge! I always notice this throughout my travels. Here’s my submission.
    Everyday I drag my unwilling body to this dismal place to earn a living. Although my commute is short it seems so long because of the location. Each trip to work seems like a ride to the wilderness. If you pay attention to the surroundings you can hear the call of the wild and get a glimpse of times long lost. The first homage is the deafening silence. Despite the close proximity to NYC and its gridlock traffic and loud commuters, it is eerily quiet most of the time. The exception to this is the occasional train bustling through making music with the rattling windows. As I sit at my desk peering out the windows, I see snow covered railroad ties and tracks. It almost seems like someone gathered wood for a huge fire or a barn raising. They’re gathered and stacked in organized chaos. At times it’s an eye-soar and at others like today it’s artistic in its rustic appeal.


  5. What I love about this challenge is that it`s very psychological: By being mindful of our surroundings, we might actually feel better as we have less focus on our negative thoughts or feelings.


  6. Reblogged this on There are things that are better expressed through words. and commented:
    At the Coffee Shop

    It was almost ten in the evening and we decided to grab coffee and catch the lake breeze in Tagaytay. I was deciding whether to ask for the Butterbeer coffee or Toffee Nut (which was my favorite during the holidays) I opted for Toffee Nut. What I love best about coffee shops is the distinct aroma of freshly brewed coffee, the slight chatter where you can only gather wisps of conversation from the other tables, and the pretty handwriting on the menu board. I’ve always liked the way they keep decorating those boards with some kind of pen. In this particular coffee shop, I noticed the staircase. It curved slightly and had stainless rails with lamps dripping soft yellow almost orange lights. We sat outside and chatted slightly about some pretty serious and not so serious stuff so my cousin and I decided to walk around. The moon was full and white, beside it was the constellation Orion. I felt a sudden happiness looking up at the twinkling stars and when I looked down at the city lights I realized that even if the city is illuminated, I’d still prefer starlight.


88 Responses While this challenge is closed to new entries, we encourage you to visit the Reader to find other avid bloggers.