Writing Exercise: A Character’s Outfit

I’ve recently discovered the awesomeness of shopping at thrift stores. My shopping trips tend to be very hit-or miss, I either find a bunch of stuff that speaks to me or walk out empty-handed. The time that I’ve spent walking between shelves and racks of knickknacks and clothes made me wonder if I could craft a character inspired by an outfit. So I decided to do a writing exercise where I did just that.

This is the outfit I used as my inspiration:

photo (7)


I encourage anyone looking for a writing exercise to do this one. 🙂


The last time I wore a skirt to the shop, six people mistook me for the secretary. One even commented on how great it was that the owner finally hired eye-candy, and I took great pleasure in banning him—for life—from the Gold Fire Racing Garage. The look on his face when he realized not only that I owned the business but that those trophies in the Plexiglas case were mine: priceless.

“No comments,” I said when I stepped onto the shop floor and every single head twisted in my direction.

The jaws that dropped snapped closed again an instant later. Well, all except one.

“What happened to you?” Gordon Penn asked. “You look like a girl.”

“I hope that’s not supposed to be an insult,” I said.

The racecar in front of me, primed a gunmetal gray ahead of this week’s paint scheme that’d be applied later tonight, sat in line with two other identical cars in the row. One difference was that this car had a pair of red legs sticking out from under the front end and a pair of men hunched in the space between the hood and the engine compartment. Three cars, one primary and two backups, for the race on Saturday. Not too shabby for a one-car team.

“Never,” Gordon said. “A girl owns this place.”

I resisted the urge to give him a one-fingered salute and instead gestured to the three cars. “Is there something that you’re not telling me about the team?”

“Nothing overly important,” he replied. “Annabelle’s Liquors upped their sponsorship, and I hired a new driver. He’ll be here in ten minutes.”

My jaw almost dropped. I spun around to face him, staring hard as if I could see through his amber sunglass lenses.

“You’re kidding me,” I said. “There’s a stock car driver out there who didn’t try to punch you during the interview?”

“Two,” he said. “And why is it so unbelievable that I could decide on a driver? I have standards, but they’re not completely ridiculous.”

“Because a little bit ridiculous is okay,” I said.

I didn’t punch Gordon in the face four years ago during my interview because he’s my cousin—granted he’s twenty years older than me and we’re only related because his uncle is my stepfather—but he asked the dumbest questions. What would I do if a driver tried to wreck me because I refused to let him sleep with my boyfriend? Would I be willing to drive a race with a stuffed panda bear taped behind my seat? Would I object to polka music being played through the radio during cautions?

I answered with wreck him, why?, and go ahead, I’ll just unplug my radio.

Gordon co-owned and oversaw the day-to-day operations of Penn Motorsport Racing, Incorporated. For years, PMR, Inc. operated three teams in the top tier of national stock car racing in the United States and half a dozen other teams in local circuits across the country. But then PRM, Inc. went bankrupt four years ago, and Gordon bought the team his father and my stepfather, Stephen Penn. They renamed it Penn before his father decided to retire and the Gordon and my stepfather split the share.

The hinges on the front door of the shop let out a screech that made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. I’d forgotten that it needed a generous coat of lubricant.

“Toss me that can of WD-40, please,” I said to the engine builder who stood next to the shelves.

“You’re going to risk ruining that pretty skirt?” Gordon asked.

“One of the hazards of owning a garage.”

I headed around the corner and through a white hallway with waist-high windows looking out into open space of the garage. On the other wall hung framed photographs of drivers and their cars in winner’s circles. I didn’t bother checking the pictures to see if Gordon replaced any of them with an old photo of my #89. I checked this morning, and he wasn’t good enough to get one up in the short time between now and then.

Maybe Stephen slipped in without me seeing and left the brownies Mom made on my desk. He was probably still in the office since there’s no way that anyone in the building wouldn’t know that Gordon was in the shop. And I needed to talk to him about the small team out of the Iris Dirt Track in northern Charlotte who wanted to rent the outbuilding at the back of the property.

A hard body caught my shoulder as I turned the corner, and I slammed into to the wall. The body let out a grunt.

“I’m sorry,” a man said. “Are you all right?”

I straightened up, readjusted my skirt, and turned away from the wall. My shoulder throbbed from where it smacked into the body. But I shook it off and plastered a smile on my face.

“I’m fine,” I said and readjusted my glasses. “Are you okay? That was quite a hit.”

“I’m fine,” he said quickly.

The man must have been in his early thirties. He wore a pair of blue jeans and a red golf shirt; the impact knocked his otherwise immaculate black hair out of whack. His eyes took in my outfit, and the wheels turned inside his head.

Maybe I would be banning someone from the garage today.

“I didn’t see anyone up front,” he said. “Though I see you’re on your way back.”

“Actually, I’m on my way to the front to fix the door.” I held up the lubricant can. “You obviously didn’t notice the six inch layer of dusk on that desk. No one been here without an appointment in a year.”

He stiffened, a frown creasing his lips. “Mr. Penn is expecting me. I am the new driver for Penn Motorsport Racing.”

I took a step back and looked him up and down. Really took in his appearance. His clothes spoke professional racer on his first day of work with a brand new race team, but he stood with his chin raised, shoulders squared, and his jaw set. Defiance dripped from his eyes.

Oh hell, I had to see this. Gordon was going to eat him alive.

“I’ll take you to the garage,” I said. “What’s your name?”

I didn’t think it was possible for him to stretch himself any taller. He did, though.

“Danny Blake,” he said. He didn’t hold out his hand.

“Nice to meet you, Danny,” I said. “I’m Penelope Penn, and this is my garage. Follow me, please.”

I spun on my heel and felt pretty damn satisfied that it took three steps before he started to follow.


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