Author’s note: Following the Neil Gaiman Master Class series, he offers the following exercise. Take one of the simple settings below and write a page about it, trying to undermine the reader’s expectations. For example, you’re writing about a man at a party who is talking to a beautiful woman. What he wants is probably obvious. Try to lead the reader in a different direction by not revealing his desire upfront, or by revealing a surprising motivation.
- A man lying on a hill looking through a rifle scope
- A couple in wedding outfits riding in a car
- A child raking a sandbox next to his nanny
- Two old women sitting on a bench with knitting needles and yarn
- A teenage girl climbing a rock cliff with a man below her
The sleek midnight-blue car cut through the rainy night at inhuman speed, despite the rough road, terrible weather and potholes the two occupants sat in companionable silence. The AI guiding the vehicle, far more proficient than any human chauffeur delicately adjusted speed, suspension and brakes to ensure that even the glass of champagne on the table before them barely rattles as it rockets its passengers through the bleak night.
The man leaned forward plucking the glass up, the inside of the carriage flashed in illumination from the distant lightning. As expected, the champagne was ice cold to the touch, he let out a little sigh. His suit was immaculate, pressed with no creases apparent, wonderful almost Victorian in its cut, his waistcoat a perfect fit and his neck sports a neatly formed bowtie. His left ring finger is circled with the fresh gold ring, matching his fellow passenger. Who sips daintily at her flute while staring out into the flashing storm. Pointedly away from him, body tilted at an angle.
The man thought through a range of possible things to say at this point but finding nothing that hadn’t been said 100 times before decided to try something new.
“Cecile, what do you see when you look at the storm?”
Cecile jolted a little, head almost turned to face him, no doubt surprised at the question. Even he was a little surprised by it. Not sure what prompted the break from their usual silence on the road. For a long moment, he thinks she won’t respond to him, but just as he relaxed back in his seat she spoke up.
“I like the lightning,” a moment’s hesitation “It’s always so unpredictable, have you noticed?”
“… I hadn’t, “ he murmured, glancing out the window he tried to think about all the storms they’d seen before. “I’m so sorry that things ended up like this.”
“It’s nobody’s fault Peter” her shoulders slumping.
“I said that we should go to the reception despite the weather.” he pointed out.
“and, I agreed, it IS our wedding, after all”
“It just seems,” he was interrupted by a flash of light and watched an arc of lightning smash into the ocean. “A bit unfair.” Cecile finished.
Back on the script, he sighed. With timid hesitance, he gently wrapped his arms around her.
“Still, not long now.” he murmured.
“No,” a long sigh “I suppose not.”
“Thank you for the most amazing day.”
For the first time in what felt like a lifetime, she turned to face him, eyes warm and brimming over with emotion.
“It was a great day wasn’t it” she whispered cuddling into his embrace, bracing herself for what was to come.
Lightning flashed, there was no pause between the light and sound, crackling with one billion volts of raw energy it slammed into the bonnet of the limousine. The AI running the vehicle was instantly obliterated, all the electronics fusing into a soupy mess from the insane amount of charge pouring through the vehicle.
As expected, the wheels snapped to the side, as always, the car rolled. The couple braced together eyes squeezed shut as the car flailed around them lancing them off the road and out into the abyss beside it. Three impacts shook the interior, launching the occupants into the walls with the violent finality it always did when the storms came to the coastline.
The couple relaxing back into the void of comfortable shadows, sleeping until the next storm passed by, uncaring and unheeding the storm raged over the headland with the flashes of fire from the sky illuminating a tiny white marker on the roadside, marred and worn with time.
“In memory of Cecile and Peter Haldon, happily married, forever missed, passed away here in tragedy on the night of their wedding during the night of the great storm”