A Writer’s Notebook: Word association

This exercise requires a quick explanation up front, but I’ll explain where it comes from and what I’m doing with it below.

The prompt itself is this: Brainstorm or free write around one or all of the following words: glass, willow, tile, edge, ring.

Few of the houses have glass, because the scale is small enough — and the rock so difficult to manipulate — that fitting each tiny window would be nearly impossible for a layman. The window’s on the city courthouse, for instance, would be roughly the size of a fingernail. Cutting a frame for such a window is intricate work, but it’s certainly possible with patience — each house in the vast model city has frame for all the windows, however small. Cutting the glass for such a window is also delicate work, but that, too, is possible even with the tools available to lay hobbyists, though because of the fragility of the glass the task of cutting windows is often more tedious than cutting rock frame.  (Often, for models of this scale, home crafters use microscope slides etched and snapped into shape, but anyone who remembers high school science class knows how easily those slides shatter under hasty handling.) Besides, Ford explains, because the houses are all rock and are mostly unfurnished indoors, the glass windows are unnecessary anyway. And he likes knowing that every home, every business, every government building is open to him.


Out along the edges of Ford’s clearing, the trees give way to a wide, flat grassy area dipping into the dusty ribbon of a dead creekbed, scrub brush and small cacti — prickly pear, desert willow — spotting greens and browns among the yellowing summer grass. It looks like the Texas prairie that existed here before the cedar trees invaded half a century ago.


For sidewalks, Ford uses half-inch mosaic tiles; front walks to houses use 3/8-inch tiles, known to mosaic artists as “Tiny Tiles” (that’s the official designation). He also uses the Tiny Tiles for edging along gardens, standing each tile on end and pushing it gently into the dirt. “Those disappear a lot,” he says. “Just get swallowed up or carried off or washed away, I don’t know what all. I keep a couple dozen bags on hand, each bag 450 tiles or so. It’s important to have backups.”


I point to Chen’s decolletage, the heavy bead-chain there that disappears into her neckline. “Dog tags?” I ask. She says no; she reaches into her shirt and holds the end of the chain in her fist a moment, as though meditating on a rosary, then drops the chain back inside her shirt. She won’t discuss it. Later, I drop my pen her direction — an old ruse — and when she bends to retrieve it for me, the chain slips loose. There’s a heavy class ring on the end of it. “Boyfriend’s?” I ask. She glares at me a moment, then sweeps the ring and chain into her shirt and hands me my pen. “Used to be,” she says. It’s the last she’ll say about it, but I noticed as the ring dangled there that the inscription on one side read BHS.  Boerne High School. It was a man’s ring.

I found this exercise over at Heather Wright‘s blog The Write Words; the most recent entry was about writing prompts. When it came through my RSS feeds, I knew I had to use it for this week’s Notebook.

I’m still working on the Ford story, obviously. At this point, the story is more or less writing itself, though I’m still doing research for it in the background, just in case. Today’s Notebook is also a bit of “just in case” writing — I don’t know if any of these details are necessary to the story, but I have them now if I need them. They’re the sort of details you can add into a story to create richness and depth, but they’re also the sort of details you could wind up cutting later to tighten up a story. We’ll see how long they last. One interesting outcome of this exercise, though, is that I wound up writing a detail for an important secondary character, the first time I’ve directly dealt with her. I still don’t know if this micro-scene will wind up in the story, but it’s got me thinking beyond Ford for a change, which is good for the story.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

2 thoughts on “A Writer’s Notebook: Word association

    1. Thanks for the comment, Heather! As I work on that story, I’ve thought I could use the first few exercises on that post’s list, too, and I might get around to them this coming week. It was a good list of exercises, and I always enjoy your posts. 🙂

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