From the time I was eight till around sixteen years old, my father and I used to play chess practically every night. I used to become absorbed not just in the strategy, but in the characteristics of the pieces. Pawns were brave but not very skilled. Bishops were clever. Knights were maverick and tricky – rather like guerilla fighters. Rooks were strong and powerful, but they needed a lot of room to maneuver. And don’t get me started on the talented, adept, versatile queen who gracefully defended the kingdom for her dull, quiet, fuddy-duddy old king.
Stories can be written about anything in the world – and character given to just about anything as well. A plump teapot, a sheer, terrifying cliff, a roiling sky… Even typefaces have distinct personalities. But chess pieces are the best things in the world to characterize. When I played chess, wondering what each piece was thinking and feeling was far more vivid to me than the action.
Still, one of the most important qualities I learned from those evenings was the importance of learning to finish. Even when it was obvious I was going to lose, my father would turn the chess board around and say: “Practice your end game.” We both knew I was strongest in the opening – where I could be impulsive, brave, and safely move quickly. But when it came time to actually close in on that poor old king, I tended to tune out. Not any longer. After so many years of finishing a game, it makes me slightly ill to have to interrupt one – or leave any story unfinished.
Fun writing practice
Select a chess pieces and write a short story using that piece as the protagonist.
Narrate your story from a first-person point of view, building on the idiosyncrasies of the personality of the chess piece. Write it in a dreamy, fairy-tale style. Describe the town and the fields and the woods around, as well as the battle itself. Remember to stay in character: a rook is not going to sneak up on a pawn early in the game, although it might come up behind you near the end.
Intersperse lots of melodrama and emotion into your story. You might even want to write something like “Ah, me!” when the queen is dragged off in chains to the enemy dungeon. Perhaps you are a pawn, and your only goal is to reach the opponent’s side to rescue her. Will you make it?
Write at least three paragraphs: beginning, middle, and end.
- lots and lots of silk and satin pillows
- taking a nap
- feeling beloved
- reindeer in Lapland
- sparkles on the snow