Expanding the 20 sentence scene: Boot Hill


My first post to “The Sorry Songbird” was a 20 sentence scene exercise that I enjoyed because it incorporated everything I wanted to have in the scene, even if it was just the bare bones. But because my main character, Lindsey, tends to have a fairly articulate voice, I decided that I would try to expand what I’d written for the 20 sentence scene to match Lindsey’s tone while adding in some necessary storytelling components. Overall I’m very happy with what I’ve come up with, and thus far it doesn’t even span the entirety of the scene as outlined by the 20 sentence scene exercise. I might adopt the skeleton -> expansion method during the editing process more frequently if I come out with results like this. Doing so might even help me get over my crippling edit-as-I-go mentality that has held me back from finishing this novel for so many years.

I retrace my steps back to the correct dead-end in the labyrinthine slot canyon, somewhat relieved by the sight of Finch’s piles of hoarded trinkets, books, water skins, and clothing. The pummeling heat outside hardly touches the bottom of the ravine, and I shudder as I sit down and lean my head back against the cool stone wall across from Finch. He removes the wrangling hat tipped forward over his face and sets it down on the top of his head, looking over at me.

“Thought you’d run off for good this time,” he says.

“How’s your arm?” I ask, noticing a trace of blood seeping through the strips of threadbare fabric.

“Could be better. Could be a whole hell of a lot worse.” He tests the movement of his arm, sucking in a sharp inhale between gritted teeth.

“You’re lucky.”

“Wouldn’t call it lucky,” Finch snaps. “First time I’ve been shot in years.” He pauses. “Six years, in fact.”

“You’re an outlaw. I’d say one gunshot wound in six years is a sign of good luck.”

Finch scoffs. “Not if you’re a good one.” He rolls his good shoulder backwards and stretches his legs out so that they touch the only patch of sunlight peeking between the canyon’s narrow, jagged cliffs.

“What happened six years ago?” I ask.

“Long story,” he says. I sigh and look away from him, plucking the top book from a crooked stack of leather-bound books beside me. With my jacket sleeve I wipe the dust off the blank cover. As I thumb through the book I recognize the names of characters from old fables and legends from childhood. Only one of the pages is dog-eared: a three-page story called “The Sorry Songbird.” I’ve never heard of it. I think of who Finch might’ve killed for this book; something tells me he’s not much of a reader.

I set the book beside me, yank my boots and sweat-stained socks off, and fling them aside, dipping my toes beneath the cold, smooth sand. The tiny grains stick to my feet, but I don’t bother to try and scrape them off. I pick up another book from the pile, and as I open it, the spine cracks with age and neglect. The words inside were written in pencil, and are now faint, barely legible. The small, rigid handwriting triggers a semblance of familiarity.

When I look up from the page, Finch is staring at the book in my hand. “Should’ve left you back there,” Finch mutters to himself, shaking his head. “You’ve got bad luck written on your heels.”

What do you guys think? Improved? Not so improved? As a writer, how do you approach scenes? All in one go, as a skeleton that you then return to in the editing phase to expand upon, or something in between? Do you struggle with the “editing bug” while you’re writing a first draft?

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