Writing Exercise: Something Ordinary

Exercise: Take something common, an activity or object that you’re familiar with, and then have a character describe it to someone who has a completely different frame of reference. (Writing Excuses – Episode 10.22)

“It’s a chair.”

“I’m aware of what your people call it, I am just not sure what it is doing in my living quarters.” The giant alien swayed slightly on his feet making Luke  fear that Q’tell’s exhaustion was starting to affect his balance. Luke walked toward the giant sized recliner keeping an eye on his new ally.

“The gravity on my species home world is much heavier than yours, and even though we were built for it we still need give our bodies a break. That’s why we sleep horizontal…”

Q’tell visibly shuttered at the mention of it. His species came from such a tiny world that they slept mostly upright, and even in a station set to 0.75 of Earth’s gravity it was painful for his kind to lay down. It was just more than his body was used to dealing with.

“…But this isn’t for that. Chairs are for…” Luke mulled over how to describe it, “resting.”

“Rest?” No translator program could have picked up on that note of desperate hope in Q’tell’s voice, but Luke heard it just the same. He smiled for the big guy but Q’tell still looked at the recliner like it was made of teeth.

“I’ll show you how it works.” Luke leaped into the air like a crazy monkey and landed perfectly in the middle of the seat. Low gravity had it’s perks. Though now that he was up here he felt like child. Q’tell was 10 feet tall, an average height among his people, but at 5 feet 9 inches Luke just came up to his waist. Luke scooched his butt closer to the edge of the chair and dangled his legs over the edge.

“So we rest our upper legs and back side on the seat part of the chair. The rest of the leg from the knee down stays upright with our feet on the floor.” Luke did an awkward crab walk in reverse until his back was against the padding of the chair. “Then our upper body leans back on this part of the chair. These things,” he pointed at the arm rests that came up to his nose, “are for your arms. You can rest them there, or at your sides if that is more comfortable.”

Q’tell had moved slowly closer, watching as Luke climbed around on the recliner.

“And what is that for?” Q’tell pointed to the lever on the side of the chair.

“That is what makes this chair a recliner. When you move that, it changes the shape of the chair slightly so that your whole body is supported.” Luke had spent hours researching how Q’tell’s species slept and translating it into a build-able chair. If they couldn’t find a way to help them sleep while on the station it could put alliance negotiations on hold for months. “Why don’t you give it a try?”

Q’tell moved with the speed of snail in zero-g. The gravity and lack of sleep weighed heavily on him. Luke leapt from the seat of the chair to land lightly on the floor beside him. Q’tell turned around and tried to slowly sit down but his leg muscles gave up and he fell ungracefully into the recliner. After a moment or two of shifting his body around in the chair Luke heard the soft squeaks of pleasure coming from Q’tell.

“It is pleasurable to sit,” Q’tell’s squeaks were not picked up by the translator but Luke had learned what they meant.

“Shall we try to recline?” Luke grinned pointing at the lever. Q’tell gave his species equivalent of a nod, a broad upward movement of his torso, and Luke pulled the lever.

The twang of springs startled Q’tell into a bark of surprise/dislike, but then Luke heard a musical sound. Like bird song from earth, Q’tell’s squeaks of pleasure had turned into a song full of nuance he couldn’t possibly understand. Again the translator said nothing. The song quieted slowly at first, and then it was gone. Luke jumped into the air to get a better look at the big guy’s face. Sure enough, Q’tell was asleep.

Luke walked quietly out of Q’tell’s quarters and made sure to put the computer lock on do not disturb. Now to go introduce recliners to two other giants who needed their beauty sleep.


I didn’t describe the aliens as much as I wanted to but that wasn’t really the point of the exercise. If you complete this exercise, feel free to post a link to it in the comments below.

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