This is one of my favorite of Mr. Novakovich’s exercises, and one that captures the essence of what I like about his writing style. I’m going to quote a paragraph from the text here, so that you can see what I mean. This is from his book, Fiction Writer’s Workshop, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn to write or improve their skills.
“Imagine some event that could have happened to you but did not – something that you wanted or feared. First, make up the basic outline of the event, and then incorporate true details. Put your teapot and cats into the story; they won’t sue you. Your knowledge of these details will help you convince your reader of the truthfulness of the story’s main event. Don’t spend much time on introducing this event or on drawing conclusions. Just give us the scene with your desire (or fear) acted out. Keep yourself as the main protagonist.”
The Asian lady next to me was named Louise, and she was nice. Her nose was really small, close to her face, but she had these cool glasses that were all silver frames and round and stuff. They were really cool. The man in the aisle seat was older, like my dad, and he was fat. His name was Bill. His belly stuck out over his pants and his belt strained to hold it in. He wore a yellow shirt over a white undershirt and his brown pants pockets had a white lining you could see when they gaped.
The stewardesses were Mary and Cindy. They let me hand out peanuts and help collect empty drink cups. I collected the little liquor bottles because I like having little bottles in my collection. I washed them out and put them on my shelves like a display. They look pretty with flowers in them. The dried flowers are the best because they don’t fall over and spill water everywhere.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll take your seats. The Captain has turned on the seat belt sign.”
The voice droned on. I sighed, bored, and put my belt back on. I didn’t like it, because it made me feel stuck in the seat, but if the Captain said, I guess you can’t really argue, right? I stared out the window at Colorado, the Rockies were on my right. They didn’t look like much from this height, wreathed in wispy clouds like smoke.
Mary came up to our row and stopped to talk to the man. I was a minor, she explained, traveling alone. My parents would meet the plane in San Francisco. He agreed to be my guardian for the flight. I didn’t really like that idea, because he was, well, fat. The Asian lady was a lot better choice, but they didn’t ask me. I was too intimidated to speak up.
The plane started bumping a little in turbulence, but that was pretty normal for this flight. I took it all the time, visiting my grandparents in Ohio. My mom and them didn’t get along, so I went by myself. It was fun to go through the airport alone and know where I was going. The airlines had never given me a guardian before, though.
I took out my book and started reading, since I couldn’t walk around anymore. I was bored but the book was good. I got it from the library at school, one of Phyllis Whitney’s, the Mystery on the Isle of Skye. I loved the smell of her books at the library, the paper had its own distinct odor. I really enjoyed it, it made reading special.
As we got closer to San Francisco and had to pack our tray tables up and put our seats back, the people around me got tense. The Asian lady had some beads in her hand, like a bracelet, except she kept moving them around in a circle and her lips were moving like she prayed the rosary. It was strange, I’d never seen a rosary that small before.
Bill didn’t say much to me, just told me to make sure that my seatbelt was on and stuff. I’d already done that. I wasn’t a novice, after all.
The stewardesses came around and had everyone get into the crash position. You could either lean your arms across the seat in front of you, or lean over and circle your legs. They made me do that one, because I wasn’t tall enough to use the seat in front of me. I didn’t think that was very fair, but I didn’t argue. Cindy was very tense when she came by and I didn’t want to make her mad at me.
The Bay was below us, but I had to bend over so I couldn’t see the landing like usual. That was a bummer, because I really like watching the takeoff and landing. I heard someone start to cry in one of the seats behind us and the landing gear clanked as it lowered. I could hear the motors change as they lined up to land, and the wings made noises as the ailerons extended.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to thank you for flying wit us today. Your Captain and I are committed to making this a safe landing. This will be the last cabin transmission before we are at the airport. God bless us all.”
That was a strange thing to say. He never said that on other flights. I peeked at Louise and saw slow tears sliding down her face silently.
“What’s wrong?” I whispered.
She looked at me, face calm except for the tears. “When we took off, some of the tread from the tires was burned away. They’re not sure if we can land safely,” she whispered. “There’s a chance the tire may rupture and cause a fire in the front of the plane.”
I stared at her for a little while but she didn’t take it back. I put my face back on my knees, my mouth up tight against my legs and prayed.
The pressure changed as we descended and my ears popped. I wanted to look out the window, but was afraid to sit up. The whine of the engines seemed to get louder and we dropped further. I saw a shape flit by the window, a building or something, but it was gone too fast to register. Then we bounced as we landed.
A crash shook the front of the airplane and we jerked forward sharply. The back of the plane yawed, making my stomach sick with reaction. The front of the plane jumped and fell sharply and several people screamed. We skidded for quite a ways and then finally stopped.
“All right, everyone. As we discussed. Rows behind me, please proceed to the back of the plane. The rest of you, please form two lines, over the wing exist.” Cindy clapped her hands sharply and someone gasped. “Quickly people, move!”
I was in row 27B, so I followed Bill toward the back of the plane past the galley. The door opened and the roar of the engines deafened us. My hair was plastered to my head in the wind and I stared down the exit. There was no stair. Instead it was a bright yellow slide, like a raft or something at camp. “Okay, honey, I want you to sit down and put your arms across your chest, okay?” Cindy shouted over the racket. “Quickly now.” I did as she asked and flew down the slide. A huge paramedic was at the bottom and he caught me, swung me up and off the slide, and deposited me in the arms of another huge paramedic. “This is the one,” he announced.
The one holding me nodded and turned without speaking. He hitched me onto his hip and walked toward a red SUV that said “Fire Marshall” on the side. “I’m Chief Wilson, Miss Noon,” he told me gently. “We’re going to meet up with your parents. They’re very worried about you.”
I started to answer him but the ground shook. A huge boom shook us and the Chief swore. He whirled and I could see the front of the plane engulfed in flame. He turned, arms tightening around me, and ran for the car.
Once we were inside the vehicle, and I had my seatbelt on, he grabbed a radio from under the air conditioning controls. “This is Chief Wilkins with the minor aboard. Clear entrance three.”
I stared back at the airplane, the people now as small as little black ants running from the burning shape. “Did the Captain get out?” I asked the window, afraid of the answer.
“Yes, he did,” Chief said gently. “The crew is clear of the plane now. Everyone got off safely.”
I watched until I couldn’t see the plane anymore and then turned back to stare at the backside of the terminal. We got to the door and the Chief pulled to a stop. The door flew open and my mother and dad flew out, my mom this weird shade of gray.
“Baby!” she screamed.
I couldn’t get the seatbelt off before she got there, but she snapped it free without even looking and pulled me out of the car. I couldn’t really breathe when she hugged me that tight, but I didn’t care. I was home safe.