Creative Writing Exercise – A River Runs Through It

Today I’m posting my second Creative Writing exercise. You can find the first exercise here.

The Prompt – This story looks at setting, and how we use it in fiction. I want you to write a scene/story from the point of view of one of the “persons” – lst, 2nd,or 3rd. I’ll give you the setting. The character is standing by a river. He/she has just come from a meeting with someone from his/her past. I want you to use the landscape to help us understand the character’s state of mind (tranquil, stormy, whatever.) In short stories nothing is there that is not necessary to the story. Therefore the description of a river, or the mentioning of a river, is significant. See what you can come up with.

A River Runs Through It

Christine ambled down the gentle slope toward the river. She stopped just before reaching the bank, then sat cross-legged on the grass, her hands folded in her lap, and watched as the river flowed lazily downstream before finally meandering around a bend and disappearing. It was a dreary day, the kind of day best spent indoors watching television or reading a book. The sky was heavy with clouds that threatened rain, and the pale light that still managed to filter through seemed to strip the world of all colour, leaving behind muted greys and browns where before there were vibrant greens and blues. Everything was quiet and still; no birds sang from the trees, no breeze ruffled her hair. The river itself appeared sluggish and lethargic, as though resisting the unseen force that pushed it ever onward to places unknown. Christine watched as a small eddy near the bank drew in a stray twig, swirling it around in slow circles before finally spitting it out and allowing it to resume its ceaseless journey.

She felt as though she too had been dislodged from her place of safety and set adrift, each day flowing endlessly into the next, forever moving in the same direction toward an uncertain future, with only the occasional obstacle to drag her off-course. She’d come from a chance encounter with Jason, a man to whom she’d once been engaged. He was newly married now, with a baby on the way. Although she’d been pleased to see him and catch up on the past five years, it left her feeling lonely and more than a little sorry for herself.

Things hadn’t ended well between them. Christine had called off the engagement after only a few months, had fumbled her way through an explanation about not believing they were right for each other; that he wanted kids, she didn’t; that they’d just end up resenting each other down the road. That was probably all true, but she didn’t want to tell him the real reason, because the real reason was that she’d felt as though she were…settling.

Jason had been a planner. He’d always kept a mental timeline of where they’d needed to be and when they’d needed to be there by. It was simultaneously comforting and infuriating. On the one hand, it was a relief not to have to worry about the minutiae of everyday life, to never again be shamefully late for a social event with friends. On the other hand, it lent a contrived feeling to everything they did, almost as though if something didn’t exist within the carefully regimented schedule inside Jason’s head, then it didn’t exist at all. So it came as no surprise that when she’d pictured their future together, it had been filled with polite conversation over weekly dinners out, and Sunday brunch at his parent’s house eating quiche lorraine and discussing the political events of the past week. It was all perfectly lovely, perfectly safe, perfectly mundane.

She wasn’t sure why she’d accepted Jason’s proposal in the first place, why she’d knowingly made such a selfish decision that had put them both through unnecessary heartache. Young and stupid, she told herself, even though she hadn’t been that young, not really, not at thirty, and she certainly didn’t consider herself to be stupid. No, she’d gone into the whole thing with her eyes wide open, had known what she was getting herself into, but at that point in her life, she’d been so disenchanted by the entire dating scene that she couldn’t help but crave some stability.

Now, five years on, Christine refused to ever settle again. She’d come too far and sacrificed too much. She wouldn’t give up until she found the one person that she was meant to be with.

She sighed heavily and fought a sudden, crazy urge to wade into the river and lie back, letting the current carry her away and deposit her in a far-off place where her married friends didn’t look at her with pity, where finding true love wasn’t a constant struggle. She wondered if such a place even existed at all.

Christine sat and stared out over the river for a long time, then got up, brushed herself off, and made her way back down the footpath to her car, to her responsibilities, to her lonely, lonely life.