There is one question that people ask authors more than any other: What advice do you have for other writers/authors?
In my experience as an undergraduate creative writing student, we had a number of authors sit in on our writing workshops, discuss their work (and ours) with us in class, and give readings on campus. We were encouraged to ask questions and there was always someone who asked for advice. I have read and watched and listened to interviews with authors of all different genres, and every one of them is asked this question at some point. The answer, for the most part, is usually the same: read a lot and write a lot. Many of these authors suggest writing as much as possible; they encourage people to setting aside a certain amount of time each day (or week) to write, and to stick with that schedule.
While that may work for some, I have never found it to be a productive writing environment for me. I often end up staring at the blinking cursor on an empty page or fiddling a pen in my hand.
Since I graduated and have no more pressing deadlines for workshops or classes, it’s up to me to create my own challenges. In my campus’ Creative Writing Club, we devoted a portion of the meetings toward various writing prompts. Even though I am no longer surrounded by a constant swarm of my brilliant and wonderful writer friends, I have come up with my own list of prompts. I’ve decided to tackle them and write/post a couple short(ish) ones to the blog every month (and if I don’t, please feel free to hound me on various social media platforms until I do). Without further ado, here is the first one:
Writing Prompt #1: Write a scene where two or more characters are stuck in an elevator together
The revolving glass door spit open and a man in a fitted gray suit ran through, skidding to a stop in front of the elevator doors at the end of a dim corridor. He pressed the button repeatedly and watched the light above the doors signal one of three elevators’ descent from one floor to the next. It stopped briefly on the fourth floor before finally reaching ground level. The man took an eager step toward the doors, followed immediately by two steps back to accommodate the people getting off. They exited in a hurry, chattering their way down the corridor, and the man stepped onto the elevator. He jabbed his finger at a button on the inside control panel, again and again and again, for the sixteenth floor.
As the elevator began to close, he noticed there was still someone there. He put his hand up to block the doors and turned toward the woman.
“Sorry. Were you meant to get off there?”
“No,” she replied from the corner.
He let go of the door and stepped back. “Did you need a different floor?”
The woman hesitated. “I don’t really, uh…” She rocked on her feet and uncrossed her arms, smoothing out the hem of her red dress. She shook her cropped blue-black hair from her face. “Are you familiar with this building?”
“I’ll say. Been here nearly three years.”
The elevator chugged along, creaking and moving slow. It stopped at the eighth floor, for a middle-aged black woman to get on, and again at the eleventh floor, where the woman got off.
“Do you happen to know where Wheatley and Wells’ office is located?”
“The lawyers? You’ll want the twenty-second floor.” The man leaned forward and pressed one of the call buttons on the control panel four times. He heard a mumbled “thank you” from the woman and nodded to himself as he straightened out his green patterned necktie.
The lighted numbers on the control panel moved from thirteen to fourteen to fifteen. Then, the elevator rumbled and shuddered, knocking both people off balance. The loud sound of scraping metal filled the space until the elevator jolted to a stop. For a few seconds, the ceiling lights flickered and then went out. It was quiet and dark for a full minute.
“Shit, shit, shit.” There was shakiness in the man’s voice as he cursed. While he kicked and slammed his fists into the elevator doors, a couple of dim emergency lights turned on overhead.
“Okay, sir. You can stop now.” The woman in the red dress had braced herself from falling by gripping the handrails so tight that her dark amber skin had turned white around her knuckles.
He alternated hitting the doors, slamming buttons on the panel, and kicking his feet. He called out for help, but there was no response.
“Bloody old lift,” he muttered.
“Please. That’s enough, sir. Okay? Please stop.”
The man turned and saw the woman in the corner, frozen in place, her eyes still shut. His panic quickly dissipated into concern. He moved toward her, apologizing and hushing her pleas, and placed his hands near her elbows, hovering over them without quite touching.
“Alright, I’ve stopped. We’re stopped moving as well. You can let go.” The woman didn’t budge. He touched her arms gently. “I know we’re in a bit of a dodgy situation, but can you please let go? I’ll need your help here.”
She slowly opened one eye, then the other, but the tension remained bunched in her shoulders.
“That’s it,” he coaxed. He took one hand from the woman’s arm and held it in between them. “I’m Jay. What’s your name?”
“It’s lovely to meet you, Holly. Though, I’m afraid you’re being quite rude.” He nodded at his hand.
She peeled her own hand from the handrail and shook Jay’s. As they shook hands, he slowly pulled her away from the corner and toward the middle of the elevator.
“See? Not so terrible.”
“Has this happened to you before?”
“No. I’ve always known this lift is rubbish though. Figures it would crap out as I’m running late from lunch. So,” he tried to lighten the mood. “What brings you here?”
“There weren’t signs. Anywhere. I have an interview, but I couldn’t remember where the office was. So I rode this thing up and down three times and now they’re not going to hire me and I won’t be able to pay my rent and this stupid thing is probably going to fall and kill us both anyway and then my parents, my poor parents, will have to pay off my stupid rent and my stupid student loans…”
Jay laughed. “Easy does it, Holly.”
The initial panic had been short-lived, on his part, but now it was as if he hadn’t panicked at all. His playful attitude soothed Holly significantly. She stared at him quietly as he turned from her to examine the control panel.
He pressed the buttons more gently than before, periodically turning to make sure Holly remained calm. None of them lit up. Nothing moved. There was a red button that sounded a piercing alarm. He let it buzz even though Holly flinched. Jay remained calm, for her benefit, and his fair freckled skin did not fluster. He turned off the alarm and pressed something else on the control panel. Another loud buzz sounded from a speaker, followed by the ringing of a phone. After more than a dozen rings, Jay backed away from the control panel.
“Have you got your mobile phone? I’ve left mine in the office. If there’s a signal in here, you’ll need to ring for help.”
From the yellow purse hanging over her shoulder, Holly retrieved her phone. She held it in one of her shaky hands before offering it to Jay. He nodded, took the phone with one hand, and placed his other hand around Holly’s. They stood side by side, their clasped hands dangling near their hips. Their hands were both warm and a bit sweaty and Jay laughed. Holly managed a meager smile and waited for him to call.
His voice was calm and even, warm almost, as he spoke to the emergency operator. They were stuck, he believed, between the fifteenth and sixteenth floors of the building, in the center lift. There were just the two of them and they had been there about ten minutes so far. As he recalled how the elevator had shaken and rumbled before it stopped and the lights flickered out, he gave Holly’s hand a squeeze and smiled. He thanked the person on the phone and nodded politely as he spoke, like he were just chatting with an old family friend.
“Alright, then,” he said when he hung up.
He and Holly stayed next to each other, staring ahead of them at the daunting silver doors. They were so quiet that, between breaths, they could hear some commotion from the floors on the other side. Their hands swayed slightly in the space between their bodies. Her shoulder brushed against his arm and then she exhaled loudly.
“Alright, then,” Holly repeated.
He smiled. “They’re giving another ring to the lift technician to see if he can do something first. But they’re sending along the fire department to help us out of here, and they’ll arrive shortly.” He took his own calming breath and relaxed. “Why don’t we take a seat for now?”
Jay gave another squeeze to Holly’s hand and let go so he could loosen his necktie and shrug the gray suit jacket from his shoulders. He lay it down on the floor for both of them. They sat with their legs outstretched, their ankles crossed, and their hands folded in their laps.
“Did you mention what type of law you studied at university?” Holly looked at him quizzically. “Because when this is all sorted, we ought to sue.”
“For emotional distress?” Her dark eyes lit up when she laughed.
“Hold on.” Jay put his hand up in front of him and smirked. “You’re the emotionally distressed one. I’m just late from lunch.”
“We’ll sue for longer lunch breaks and better elevators then.”
“You’ll make a brilliant lawyer, Holly.”
They laughed together. This time, Holly reached out for Jay’s hand. They sat with their clasped hands resting on floor in the sliver of space that separated them.
As with most things I write, this turned out longer than expected. But this was really fun to write. And if you’ve read the whole thing: thank you, thank you, thank you! (I also think it’s quite important to note that, as I wrote this, I spoke the entire thing in my fake English accent.) Now I challenge you to write your own fictional elevator scene.