A Brief Moment and a Strange Man

I was riding the train home from work one day when a particular man caught my eye.  I pulled out my notebook and did a little description exercise.  Description is always the hardest thing for me when writing fiction, and I figured I could use all the practice I can get.

The old man shuffled onto the train, his movements careful and deliberate, as if he half expected the train to burst forward at any moment.  He picked his seat and took his time removing the weathered brown hat and gloves, shoving them into the deep pockets of his dirty, well-worn winter coat which was almost too warm for the chilly March air.

He wore dark green khaki pants with a navy blue long-sleeved shirt that was several sizes too large for him and was tucked into his green khaki pants.  A sweater vest, very similar in color to the green pants, completed the ensemble.  The old man appeared frail, partly because he probably was a little frail but mostly because the over-sized shirt dwarfed him, making him seem even thinner by comparison.

Before sitting, he rummaged through his two shoulders bags – one black and one blue.  He moved the mysterious contents back and forth between the two until satisfied with their order, and then placed the larger black bag on the overhead luggage rack while keeping the smaller blue bag on the floor under his seat.  By this point, the train had started to move and the old man rocked gently side to side as he eased himself into his seat and relaxed his tired bones.

From the depths of the bag between his feet he withdrew a granola bar – his favorite afternoon snack – and gleefully took several big bites, savoring the taste of each.  When finished with the snack, he washed the last bits of it down with a few swallows of apple juice.

Hunger satiated, he put on a pair of wire-rimmed reading glasses and opened his flip-style phone to resume a blackjack game, already in progress.

Do you like to do similar writing exercises? Maybe give it a try. Pick a stranger you encounter during your day and see what you can come up with. Feel free to email it to me at comments©commenteri•com. I’d be happy to feature yours for the next Fiction Friday.

4 thoughts on “A Brief Moment and a Strange Man

  1. I’m somewhat known for my lengthy descriptions — perhaps too lengthy at times. I do find, though, that sometimes I wish I could picture just a little bit more with some authors’ works.

    For instance, I feel like just ONE more word in your descriptions would solidify the image. Instead of “weathered brown hat,” make it a “weathered, brown BOWLER hat” or “weathered, brown BASEBALL hat.” Etc.

    Also, phrases like “half expected” aren’t as strong as simply saying “as if he expected the train to burst forward.” In my opinion, with description, strength is always, well, stronger. 😛

    Along those lines, a weakness of my own is the word “seems.” Sometimes, I too often say “It seemed to be bright” or “he seemed to think it was too soon,” and I’ve found it’s much stronger to just say “It was bright” or “he thought it was too soon.”

    Obviously, there’s always a time and place for vagueness, but I think we as writers rely on it too much.

    This is an interesting fellow you’ve described here. At first, I got the impression of a homeless man, but then he whipped out a granola bar and apple juice, and I suddenly thought, “Huh… who IS this man?”

    • It was his playing blackjack on an ancient flip phone that won me over. That took it from “creepy people watching” to “I should write about this”

What do you think?