How To Write a Novel — Zoo

Day 58 of writing my novel in public

Photo by Shreyashka Maharjan on Unsplash

I’ve started something scary here on Medium. It’s something I’ve done before, but never in public. I have a process that I’m going to follow, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you want to follow the journey from the start, go here.

If you missed yesterday’s, you can find it here.

Day 58 — Zoo

We are currently house sitting for a friend in beautiful surroundings. He has built a house with large picture windows facing over a dam, surrounded by trees and Australian bush. Yellow and white butterflies dance in groups around the flowering plants. Ducks waddle up from the dam to shower under the sprinkler system. Kangaroos hop across the lawn in the half-light of dawn and dusk.

It is fitting that today I am writing about the zoo in The Smell Tower, as the sights and sounds of the environment here all help me create the setting. I agree with the advice that you should be able to write anywhere, but given the choice, these surroundings help to quiet the mind and get the words flowing.

These are the story threads for today.

  • Charlie investigates the zoo.
  • Sandy and Woofy have been locked in cages.
  • Charlie frees Sandy and Woofy. They have an emotional reunion.
  • Sandy opens all the other cages.

Against the clock

In order to write without self-censoring, I’m going to write against the clock in three fifteen minute bursts. I’m aiming to write around 750 words.

It took them the rest of the day to finish icing all the remaining cupcakes and when they had finished they were both too exhausted to do anything other than sleep. Despite only having less than a day to stop Miasmus, he had to think straight to be of any use, and at the moment his brain felt like it had been jumping in his skull all day.

Next morning he rose early and met Staghorn for breakfast. She was still not sure that she should be showing him the zoo.

“If Miasmus finds out about this, I’ll probably be fired,” she said munching on toast and Vegemite.

“Let’s not tell him then,” said Charlie.

After they’d finished, Staghorn took him to the lifts and used her own keypad to let them into the lift labelled Harshad and up one floor to eight then swapped to the Semi-Prime lift. From there they shot up to fifty-seven. Staghorn spent the time trying to explain to Charlie about what Harshad numbers and semi-primes were but he was too focussed on finding his sister to take it in. At fifty-seven they changed again into the lift labelled Nineteens, and continued up to floor seventy-six.

“The zoo is actually on one of the floors with no direct lift access,” said Staghorn as they exited, “But you can access it from above on this level.”

They walked out onto a metal walkway that ran in a square around the level. Above them a criss-cross lighting grid hung with spotlights illuminated the space below.

Charlie could see down through the gaps to a patchwork of different landscapes below. One area was sandy with rocks and cacti and a giant heat lamp reflected and shimmied off the small pool of water. Another was hidden by giant trees that reached up to the walkway they stood on and continued up to the roof above. A third had an open expanse of grassland.

Staghorn led him along the walkway to a staircase down. Animal noises floated up past them, honks and warbles and screeches and growls. Strong smells drifted on rising currents, blues and browns danced like butterfly wings, orange and blacks soared in triangle formation and deep green bubbles weaved between.

By the time they reached ground level, Charlie’s head swam with the smells, sights and sounds. He kept close to Staghorn in front, not sure what lurked in the shadows around him.

“I’m not sure where to start looking. Does your sister have a favourite animal?” said Staghorn.

“She loves them all,” said Charlie. Then a thought occurred to him, “But I can probably get Woofy to answer me.”

Charlie put two fingers in his mouth and gave a shrill whistle. Somewhere in the distance he heard a familiar woof.

“This way,” said Staghorn, heading off through some dense undergrowth, slicing forward with one of her knitting needles. Charlie followed on her heels.

They came out into a clearing and what at first looked like some sort of sculpture in the middle. Hundreds of boxes stacked into a rough pyramid climbed into the air. Charlie whistled again and an answering woof came from somewhere in the pile.

Charlie rushed forward and realised that the boxes all had one open side blocked only by metal rungs. In the darkness within one of them he saw a shape moving. Running up to it he stopped as a mouth filled with teeth rushed forward and snapped at the bars. Charlie jumped back.

“Sandy,” he called.

“Over here,” came Sandy’s voice, smaller even than usual.

Charlie ran round the stack until he found the right side of the pyramid, then climbed up to where the voice came from. Inside one of the cages he saw the dirty and tear-streaked face of Sandy.

She frowned, “Can you open this please.”

Charlie studied the bars. There was no obvious way of opening it. But then he saw on the side a panel like the ones beside the lifts. He placed his key pass against it but nothing happened.

“I’ll be back,” he said, then climbed down to find Staghorn. She had seated herself on one of the lower cages and was cleaning off her knitting needle on a handkerchief.

“Sandy’s inside one of these. Can I borrow your pass please?” said Charlie.

Staghorn looked shocked, but handed over her pass. Charlie climbed again to his sister’s cage and pressed the pass to the panel. With a soft click the bottom of the runged front hinged open and Sandy sprang out. She fell forward into Charlie’s arms and clung to him.


I like the image of the double story zoo inside The Smell Tower and Staghorn, fighting through undergrowth with her knitting needles. I feel that there is more that I can do with this scene, but I have a great beginning for when I come to revise.

Total words so far 29,378.

Tomorrow I will write the scene where Sandy saves Charlie from a skunk.

Please subscribe to get the full series as I write it.

If you want to try the process with me and write your own novel, I’d love to have you join me on this journey. Put in the comments on how you went with this step.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *