Okay gang, I’ve got something different for you today. A writing exercise. I shared one of these a while back on my other blog and it was well received. I hope this one will also be as popular.
Sometimes when we’re writing, pacing can be an issue. We have characters who can’t (or won’t in some stubborn cases) leave a room or a scene which winds up becoming stagnant and boring for the reader. As writers, it’s up to us to keep things interesting with every scene. Other times we rush through a whole bunch of events within a few pages so things become a mish-mash of actions that might have been better off being spaced out across the entire story instead of clumped together.
So pacing your story becomes very important. And I found this little exercise to be both a challenge and a lot of fun. It’s called “Keep The Engine Running”. The rules are as follows:
1 – Have two characters in a vehicle, with a destination in mind. The driver of the vehicle will never get out or turn the engine off at any point of the story.
2 – They must stop 5 times and interact with another person or group of people at each stop.
3 – They will never reach their destination. (You must tell us what happens to prevent this)
4 – The entire story will take place in/or around the vehicle.
Keep in mind, the people and things they meet will prevent the original characters from reaching their destination. See how your characters are changed by their encounters and what they learn. This is a good way to explore and get to know your people a little better. Below you will find what I created for this exercise. I hope you enjoy it and get some ideas for your short story. Make sure you leave comments and even a link to what you create so me and the other readers of this blog can see what you did. Remember, the idea behind this whole blog is to help each other learn and grow as writers. Have fun:
KEEP THE ENGINE RUNNING
by Allan Krummenacker
“Thanks for driving me today Rookie,” my passenger says, “Those damn eye-drops the doc used are going to affect my vision for at least another hour to two.”
I smile, “No problem Old-Timer. Glad to help out.” That earns me a glare that has made many of my fellow officers wilt. But I can get away with it. Roy and I were partnered up back in New York City twenty years ago when I was a rookie cop. A few years after he left the city to become Chief of Police here in New Swindon, he invited me to join him as his second-in-command. And with all the cops who had seniority over me at the precinct, I jumped at the opportunity.
“Cracks like that can get you demoted missy,” he growls.
I can’t resist. “You know that scowl would be more intimidating it you weren’t squinting to see me clearly. Besides, if you demote me who will you get to help you keep the rest of the squad in line?”
He growls and then falls silent for the moment. Out of the corner of my eye I see him squirm a little. “Need a pit-stop?” I ask.
All I get is a grunt, but I know what it means. So I pull the patrol car over to a nearby restaurant.
“Keep the engine running, just in case a call comes in,” he tells me.
“Like I’d forget to do that,” I reply innocently.
This time a large smile crosses his craggy face. “Remind me to go down the list when I get back, Rookie,” he tells me and heads inside before I can respond. I wait until I see his broad shoulders and iron-grey head disappear through the doors before replying. “I can name few times you did it too, you old fart!”
Just then the radio attached to my shoulder crackles making me jump. For a second, I wonder if I’ve left the microphone open again and he heard me. Instead it’s just Pam, our dispatcher back at the station, checking in to see how our boss made out at the eye doctor. I tell her he did just fine and that she can call his wife to let her know he actually went this time. Men can be such babies about doctor appointments.
We chit-chat for a while, since there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on today. She asks about Alex, my ‘Boy-Toy’ as everyone calls him. I can’t blame them. I was leaving high school when he was just entering kindergarten.
“Oh, he’s doing fine,” I tell her.
“Really?” she replies, then follows up with, “Because when I saw him earlier I could’ve sworn he was walking a little funny.”
“We got a little enthusiastic last night,” I tell her and leave it at that.
There’s a pause. Then I hear, “You are one lucky lady, Sarge. Oops call coming in. Talk to you later.” With that the radio falls silent.
“Don’t I know it,” I mutter quietly, trying not to think about the 15 year age difference between me and my love.
But before I can dwell on my romantic life, Roy emerges from the restaurant carrying two coffees and a bag of food. “Compliments of the house,” he tells me, as he gets back into the car.
“Someone trying to get a parking ticket fixed?” I ask checking out the contents of the bag, hot sandwiches and pastries. Nice.
“I don’t operate like that and you know it, Sergeant,” he tells me stiffly. But I can see the amusement in his eyes. We cap on each other all the time, like a couple of teenagers. But only when we’re alone, we’re careful not to do it in front of anyone else. We can’t afford to lose that air of authority.
I back the patrol car out of the parking lot and get us back on the road. The station is only about ten minutes away and we can eat more comfortably there.
We get about two blocks down the road when I see a slender, blonde-haired man walking along the sidewalk. I instantly recognize his backside, since I’ve grabbed it enough times. A smile crosses my face as I consider whether or not to hit the siren and give him a little scare. But before I can decide, Roy grabs a bullhorn from under his seat and rolls down his window. “All right Hill, hold it right there and keep your hands where I can see them,” he barks and then tells me to pull over.
Suppressing a grin I do as I’m told.
The pedestrian in question has already come to halt and even dropped to his knees, while putting both hands on his head.
“Oye I ain’t done nuthin’,” he complains in a fake cockney accent. “I weren’t no where’s near that crime scene, I wasn’t.”
Towering over him, Roy growls, “Which one was that then?”
My boyfriend looks up at him and suddenly stands up saying, “Oh well if you haven’t found out about it yet, then I got nothing to worry about.” His British accent isn’t quite so thick now, nor is it Cockney. Born and raised for the first part of his life in England, Alex has never lost that way of speaking. But occasionally he loves to amuse everyone by using some of the other accents from his place of birth, just as a New Yorker may fake a Texan accent over here.
“I’ve still got a bone to pick with you,” Roy tells him with annoyance.
Alex glances over at the patrol car and sees me. A wicked grin crosses his face. I shake my head. He’s about to get smart with my boss, and my hearing is very sharp. So I get to hear everything.
“Oh do you now Chief? Tell me, will it get me tossed in the back of the patrol car? And if so, can you throw your driver back there with me? She’ll get a confession out of me in no time.”
I feel my face turning as red as my hair. At 45 I certainly don’t look my age. Many people mistake me for being in my mid-30’s, which is how I landed up with Alex who just turned thirty last month. We’ve been together three years now and he’s even more devoted to me in spite of our age difference.
Now I’ll admit, I’ve kept myself in good shape. You have to when you’re a cop otherwise the bad guys take advantage of it and get away. So my figure still turns heads fairly often. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why he loves me so passionately and frequently. He’s always seems more than willing to prove it by getting me out of my clothes. Sometimes he doesn’t wait even that long.
Not that I’m complaining, I feel the same way about him. But how long can it last? How soon till he starts noticing the first hints of lines around my eyes, or that I’ve gotten my first grey hair? What then?
Knowing him, he’ll probably propose again. God he’s wonderful.
Meanwhile I can still hear Roy raising his voice outside the car. Apparently it was my Boy-Toy’s fault that he had to see the eye doctor today.
“All I said to your wife was that you were complaining that you were having trouble reading reports lately,” my love explains.
“Yeah well next time keep MY complaints to yourself, all right?” Roy tells him and climbs back into the patrol car. I can see Alex standing on the sidewalk with the most puzzled look on his face. I can’t blame him. How do you keep someone else’s complaints to yourself? I’m tempted to ask Roy but he’s already buckled up and telling me to get going.
I blow a kiss to Alex and take off.
We go another couple of blocks only to be stopped by a traffic light. I hate this particular one. It’s the slowest one in the whole damn town, or at least it feels that way. And since there are two lanes going each way, whoever pulls up next to you will naturally roll down their window wanting to talk to you. And today is no different.
Off to my left I hear and engine roar like someone wants to race. I turn and see my current partner Steve Patell on his motorbike. Even with the helmet and sunglasses, his big moustache is unmistakable. He’s grinning at me now and revs the engine again. Apparently he hasn’t seen who’s in the car with me. I roll down my window.
“Hey, cut that out or I’ll site you for noise pollution,” I yell to him.
“You and what army, Sarge?”
I can’t resist. I lean back and let him get a good look at our boss who’s glaring at him.
The smile disappears from Steve’s face faster than you can say “Book ‘em Dano!”
A car behind us beeps. The light’s changed and my partner is already taking off. Not too fast, but enough to stay out of reach for the moment. He knows he’s going to get chewed out at the office. Poor guy, I almost feel sorry for him. But then again he keeps dropping hints for me to dump my Boy-Toy and take up with him. Like that’s ever going to happen. He’s only a few years older than Alex. What is it with me attracting younger men?
“Patell would make a great cop if he’d stop horsing around so damn much,” Roy grunts.
“He gets along good with the high school crowd,” I point out, coming to my partner’s defense. It doesn’t help though.
“They like him because he never grew up. He’s got the same mindset as they do,” Roy replies, staring straight ahead.
I can tell further defense of Steve will only result in more annoyance so I decide to let things drop. Roy has a point, but so do I. My partner and I get along really well with over 90% of the high school crowd here in New Swindon. And they are willing to come to us with problems, especially when they’re afraid to turning to Mom and Dad. Which makes sense since all we can do is talk them to death. Their parents can ground them.
For the next five blocks Roy goes on and on about the importance of keeping up a good appearance and authority. We’ve just turned down a residential street and I spot Frank Marshall, one of the town’s older residents struggling with his groceries.
I pull over and Roy gives me a look but doesn’t say anything. After working together for so long, he can read me like a book.
“Keeping up appearances, huh?” he growls.
I smile innocently at him..
“Keep the engine running,” he mutters and gets out. As soon as the door closes he pops his head through the open window. “And for your information I was going to tell you to stop anyway. He and I are supposed to go fishing this weekend.”
I frown, “And who’s going to be minding the station?”
“You, you snot-nosed Rookie,” he grins evilly. “That’ll teach you to be a smartass,” he adds and then disappears.
My mouth hangs open. Damn him, I was hoping to spend a good part of Saturday in bed with Alex. Now it’ll just be Friday. Sunday we’ll be going over to New Haven to be part of a Ballroom Dance exhibition.
I watch Roy with Mr. Marshall and the two of them are having a grand old time talking. ‘Gee, I can hardly wait to hear the stories about the ones that got away,’ I think drily.
The rest of my musings are cut off as Pam’s voice comes over the radio.. A car’s been stolen and a chase is already under way. The vehicle isn’t too far from here.
I pop my head out the window and tell Roy what’s up. Within seconds he’s back in the car and telling me to hit the sirens. We take off.
I give him the full run-down on what’s happening and he grabs the microphone to help coordinate the pursuit. Roy knows every street in and around the town. You don’t stay Chief of Police for over twenty years without knowing your territory. He tells me where to turn and within moments we’re right behind the stolen car. It’s a metal blue Impala. And from what I can see of the driver’s head, it looks like they might be on something.
“Terrific,” I mutter, “a stoner going for an afternoon joy-ride.”
“Probably headed for a Chop-Shop,” Roy grunts. “We’ve been getting reports about one over in Canaan.”
“That’s just over the state line,” I point out. “If he takes the next right, that’ll put him on Route 44 and he’ll only be about 10 miles from it.”
“I know,” Roy nods and tells me to keep close. “Just keep on his ass. The Chief over in Canaan’s already got a welcoming party waiting for him if we can keep him busy.”
I floor it and we get right up to the Impala’s bumper. This makes the guy nervous and he takes the right onto 44 just as planned.
We stay right behind him. In this area, the road is only one lane each way. So there aren’t many places our friend can go. But it gets twisty in some areas, and we’re coming up on one of the bends.
The car thief is definitely on something. He almost doesn’t make the curve. With tires screaming he winds up compensating too much and swings over into the opposite lane before righting the car. I don’t have that problem.
“Keep on him, Ronnie. He’s going to have to slow down and pull over, or do something really stupid,” Roy tells me absently, as he leans forward in his seat. It’s obvious he’s totally loving this chase. That’s one of the great things about him. He’s never been one of those people who enjoys being behind a desk all day. Getting out on the street, meeting people, taking the pulse of the town, that’s the way he likes to run his station. And it works.
We’re almost on top of the Impala again when the guy suddenly swings over to the left lane. Luckily there’s no oncoming traffic.
“Shall I give him a tap?” I ask Roy, hoping to force the guy over or spin him out before someone comes along and gets hurt.
But before my boss can answer the guy suddenly swings back into our lane, and the front end of my patrol car. Both our cars start to spin out. It happens so fast I don’t have enough time to avoid the ditch on the side of the road.
The next thing I know the world through the windshield flips over amidst a loud thunderous crash.
It takes a few seconds for my vision to clear and I see the world outside it upside down. Luckily I don’t feel any pain. I look over at Roy who seems to be okay too. He grins at me and pats the built in roll-bar above our heads. Without it, we probably would’ve been crushed. Carefully we get our seatbelts undone and manage to crawl out through the side windows.
Getting to our feet we see the Impala wasn’t as lucky. It flipped a couple of times before landing right-side up. However our friend who led us on this merry chase wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and got ejected. We find him a few yards away from where his stolen prize landed up. Miraculously, he’s just got a few bruises and a cut on his forehead.
We put he cuffs on him and call for back up using our shoulder radios.
A noise in the background catches our attention. Turning around we see the patrol car’s back wheels are still spinning. Roy gives me a look.
I shrug and say, “Hey, you told me to keep the engine running.”