A rock in the shoe

The #5amWritersClub virtual retreat starts today, Friday, April 23, 2021.

For the past two months, we 20 participants have worked hard, preparing our manuscript synopses, 10-page samples, and peer critiques.

We’ve also done a series of writing segments in response to prompts. Below is my quick-writing response to the prompt, “a rock in the shoe”. When I first wrote this I was pleased with it. Going back over it today, I picked out many ways it wouldn’t serve a reader, and I’ve done a light edit. Funny how in one moment my writing is  obviously brilliant, and in the next is fit for the bin—a common dilemma for writers, by all reports.

To give you context on this segment: my character Jack is barely 20 years old in this scene. He left his rural home seven months ago to live four hours away in Toronto, thinking that’s where he’d find happiness: excitement, adventure, popularity. But Jack was actually seeking self-esteem and self-love, and he did not find those in the big city. Instead, his life went to shit: his relationship with his former true love in the gutter; his affair with the alluring new flame scraping him along the ground and tossing him in the gutter too. Now he’s journeying home, discovering a glimmer of self-awareness, if not yet self-love.

These writing prompt responses are based on events in my manuscript, but aren’t intended to be part of the manuscript. They do expand my understanding of the characters, and my writing skill. They give me puzzles to solve that I wouldn’t come up with myself. They are super-fun. And maybe the best of them will find their way out of the bin, into the final project.

#5amWritersClub Virtual Retreat—Weekly Writing Prompt—‘A Rock in the Shoe’

What is one annoying trait or burden that your main character has to deal with? It could be a nagging cough, a sore shoulder, a bad case of dandruff or something more internal, a fear of heights or a loss of taste. These secondary challenges seem to go unnoticed most of the time, until the most inopportune moment. Write a scene where that minor trait becomes the biggest obstacle for your character. 


That shoulder hardly ever acts up. Sometimes, hours into tossing hay bales into the barn, it pulses and aches. Then Martha sits Jack in the chair at the end of the day and wraps it with a bag of peas and an Ace bandage.

It’s not like he even did anything wrong in the first place. It wasn’t his fault, and now his ligament is shot. For life. Now he’s the one dragging the suitcase in his right hand down a dry, dusty highway, the blisters inside his palm raw and weepy, as his left shoulder throbs and he plasters his arm around his waist, gripping his t-shirt to hold it in place and stop the painful pull of gravity.

Stupid Don Drummond. Stupid football. Stupid gym teacher. Stupid Grade Nine.

I’m too old to be thinking like a baby, he tells himself.

He answers himself too, almost hearing Martha’s voice along with his own. Yes, you are, Jack, and you’re too old to be out here now escaping from the most childish decision you’ve ever made.

But I didn’t know.

Didn’t you? Really? Didn’t you?

That thought stops him hard. In the hot, still air, the dust of the road settles onto his socks. Slowly, he sets down his case. The sun beats on the back of his neck. He drifts with his case to the side, sitting on the metal guard rail, staring at his stocking feet. His dirt-crusted red Adidas are in the suitcase, his blistered right heel too painful for a shoe. He holds his left elbow with his right hand to support his aching shoulder, his eyes glazed, the world around him disappearing as he sinks into his thoughts, wondering how he so thoroughly hid the truth from himself.

He only notices the yellow Omni that has pulled to the side when the driver toots the horn.

“Ottawa?” Jack is tentative, peering in the passenger window.


“Oh. Okay. Well, anything helps. That would be great, thanks.”

Jack waits while the driver shifts a leash from the passenger seat to the floor in the back, and as he settles himself and his suitcase in front, the Great Dane stretched behind them eases in to nose his cheek.

“Hi,” says the driver. “She’s Pearl. I’m Cindy.”

“Hi. I’m Jack. Thank you. Thank you so much.” He tosses his head against the headrest and closes his eyes, following the throb of his shoulder back into the dark pit of his thoughts.

Didn’t you know, though?


2 thoughts on “A rock in the shoe

  1. I’m glad you found it vivid, Frances, thank you. If I do this right, all will be clear to the reader. This week I’m pulling the novel apart and putting it back together with a new shape. The weekend’s writing retreat was fabulous, I feel more equipped than before to do the job. As always, thanks for reading and commenting!


I'd love to hear what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.