Mystery Items

There was a story I read recently that had me scratching my head. No, it wasn’t about head-lice or dandruff. I got to a scene and during this scene, there was an item being used. The descriptions were spot on, detailed and wonderful. Right up until the name of the object was used and hold the phone… that is not at all what I thought it was.  My imagination plunked in something that the author did not intend.

This kind of mystery item can cause a story to crash into imaginary oblivion and frustrate the reader. Or I suppose it can go virtually unnoticed as if it’s not really important, but that oversight alone is a whole other problem. There is a simple explanation as to why this might happen. One the writer simply forgot to flat-out tell me what the object was. This paragon of an author assumed I would know because it’s story related or possibly (And very likely) The author was trying to be too clever or ‘fancy’ with their descriptions they figured the reader should get it.

When I’m using creative descriptions I try to just announce what the item is in a non-abrupt way or get to it sooner than later. Too much later can be disruptive and reflect poorly on my skill.

HOWEVER, there are times when this can be funny, or done purposefully to add levity to the situation.

For example:

Amber shook her hands again for the fifth time in an hour. She couldn’t focus on the report she was reading. It was dull and boring and her mind was too jumpy. 
“Hey, you.” Dale grinned mischievously as he approached. 
“Hey.” Her eyes widened as he held out a small blue cube shaped box for her. 
“This is long overdue,” Dale said as she took the box.
Amber bit her bottom lip to contain her excitement and opened it. “Oh Dale I love you it’s perfect!” She jumped up from her chair, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. 
He chuckled as she backed up. “Is that all I have to do to get you to say you love me?” He teased.
Amber bounced on her feet taking the small shiny gold ring from the box and slipping it over her finger. 
Dale brushed a stray strand of Amber’s hair behind her ear.”You’ve been so stressed lately and I know you’ve wanted one.”
“Maybe tomorrow at this dumb meeting I’ll be able to stay awake with this to fidget with.”
“That’s the idea.” Dale kissed her forehead. 

Sooooo that should have been more romantic right? Maybe, maybe not. Dale and Amber may be headed toward unplanned parenthood but…

Amber shook her hands again for the fifth time in an hour. She couldn’t focus on the report she was reading. It was dull and boring and her mind was too jumpy.
“Hey, you.” Dale grinned mischievously as he approached.
“Hey.” Her eyes widened as he held out a small blue cube shaped box for her.
“This is long overdue,” Dale said as she took the box. 
Amber bit her bottom lip to contain her excitement and opened it. “Oh, Dale a finger-fidget. I love you it’s perfect!” She jumped up from her chair, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
He chuckled as she backed up. “Is that all I have to do to get you to say you love me?” He teased.
Amber bounced on her feet taking the small shiny gold flexible ring from the box and slipping it over her index finger.
Dale brushed a stray strand of Amber’s hair behind her ear.”You’ve been so stressed lately and I know you’ve wanted one or something to help with your anxiety.”
“Maybe tomorrow at this dumb meeting I’ll be able to stay awake and focused with this to fidget with.”
“That’s the idea.” Dale kissed her forehead.

Poor Amber, though I’m not sure she’s quite ready for a different type of ring. They just started dating after all. With the lack of clarity, the first example had not only a different meaning but a different feel.

Now if I wanted to write these examples properly to demonstrate the frustration I would have carried on with ring comments, her fidgeting with it in the meeting, maybe someone commenting on it and then dropping the bomb that it’s just a stress revealing toy. That would be annoying if the reader was excited for them to be engaged. And annoyed that in hindsight the scenario did not fit a proposal whatsoever.

My advice about mystery items.
There is time and place for mystery, forgetting or neglecting to let the reader know what that something is, is not mysterious, it’s maddening.

-Sheryl

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The world is your tainted oyster

While I’m not a fan of plague scenarios I am completely okay with writing in a little humanity, in the form of illness. A main or support character might need a little cold, flu or stomach bug to change things up.

It’s funny how things like being sick make me think about writing people being sick.

How much I illustrate with illness depends entirely on the outcome I want. Gross or tender moments have equal opportunity here.

Scenarios mild Illness can bring

Develop closeness between characters
Show tender side
Show callous side
Demonstrate weakness or strength
Cause a loss of job
Induce stress/tension in those caring for ill
Worry and anxiety
Personality change from mild to extreme (Some people become totally different when sick)

Examples:

Ann frowned and startled when the doorbell rang. Puzzled she got up and trudged to the door. She peeked out the window, her heart skipped a beat and she opened the door.

“Tony, I told you I was too sick to go on our date.”
“And I told you.” He stepped inside. “That drugs are no substitute for good company and.” He held up an opaque Tupperware container. “Chicken noodle soup.”
She closed the door and led him to the kitchen. “You’re like a weird romance novel character. Too perfect.”

“There’s a compliment in there I just know it.” Tony set the soup on the counter and made her sit. “Soup pot?”

She sneezed loudly into her elbow and pointed at a cupboard sneezing again.
“Bless you.” He opened the cupboard.
“Ugh, I’m a culture of disease. You take care of sick people all day long, why would you want to on your time off?”
He smiled and handed her a glass of orange juice. “Because work is strangers, it’s way better when you like the person you’re caring for.”
He laughed when she rolled her eyes and fat watery tears dripped down her cheeks.

Amber wiped her mouth with toilet paper and flushed. She rinsed her mouth, washed her hands and nearly bumped into her perky redhead roommate coming out of the room.
“Still hungover?” Susie snickered. “Or knocked up?”
Amber narrowed her eyes at her hateful roommate. “Neither, I think I caught a bug.”
“Uh huh. Twenty bucks says that bug will last nine months.” Susie laughed as she left the apartment.
Amber leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. She did the math in her head. How did she not realize? If Susie was right then that meant… Her eyes widened at the potential candidate. “No. Not him.” Just the thought sent her scrambling for the toilet once more.

Dale wiped his brow again as Amber approached. “You look a crappy as I do.”
“Shut up Dale.” Amber snipped and sat in her cubical beside his.
“Seriously I’m shooting dinner out like nobody’s business. Total mudslide every fifteen minutes.”
Amber rubbed her face. “I swear to God Dale, shut the hell up or I’ll barf on you.”
“Huh. Maybe the food we ate at Habanero’s was tainted.” Dale got up and trotted quickly down the hall.
“Maybe.” Amber muttered glancing at her purse with the pharmacy bag in it. “Hopefully.”

Illness is common enough that people know what it is. I don’t need to describe the consistency of Anne’s boogers or colour and smell of Amber’s vomit. I could, but it wasn’t necessary to go for gross factor, it was gross enough IMO. Sometimes too much will turn a reader off or make them leery to keep reading. These were small examples that didn’t really impact the story too much. If I needed someone to lose a job I’d make them sicker longer or have it impact their life drastically.

My advice about mild illness.
It happens often enough in the real world. If your people are too perfect maybe, give them a sniffle or food poisoning. Bring out their sulky or cranky side. When it comes to illness in writing, the world is your bacteria tainted oyster.

-Sheryl

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Culture

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Don’t rush me!

Time is always a factor and in life, time moves us forward. There are cues and things I can do as a writer to emphasize urgency of a time restraint or deadline.  I talk a lot about emotions because we are emotional beings. But how do you ramp up an already emotionally charged moment? Add a little urgency.

Prompting time with dialogue, setting or action is a fantastic way to draw a reader into the frantic moment. Make it edgy and subtle. To do this I try to keep the moment as real as possible. How do people act when under the gun? How do I react when time is a factor? People react differently and the characters in my book are no exception. If everyone did the same thing then the yawns would come out to play and the book becomes a dust collector.

Sasha shifted to the edge of her seat. The acid in her stomach a reminder of how important this advert was. She clicked the mouse and moved swiftly and swore. She had to start over after the client called and changed their request two hours ago.
“Shit.” Taking a deep breath, she undid the eighth mistake and tried again to adjust the watch’s shadow. Her eye twitched in time with the ticking clock on the wall as she bit her lip and leaned forward. The adjustment shifted too far to the left again.
“Why won’t you work?” Sasha stood abruptly sending her chair flying behind her as the door opened.
“Tick-tick Sasha, the client is downstairs already.” Amber grinned.
“Can you stall them?”
“Not a chance Empress Iceberg.”
Sasha turned her frustrated fury at Amber. “After all the dozens of favors I’ve done for you?”
Amber shrugged and left with a smirk.
“Ungrateful, slimy, sneaky little…” Sasha glanced at the ugly round clock. Tick… tick… “Sneaky.” Sasha’s eyes widened as she recalled the change of her desktop wallpaper. “Would she dare?” Sasha rushed to her computer and checked the settings. “Rotten trick.” Pursing her lips Sasha changed the edit sensitivity back to her preferred settings and finished with mere seconds to spare.

How stress is presented, matters. So I ask myself, is it important to have the issue spelled out immediately or can it be slowly unraveled in the moment?  Does it fit in the story or is it a side blurb to create tension or character establishment? Either way I try to close my eyes and imagine how someone looks frazzled before I commit it to words. This is the kind of behavior I would add to my character charts. Do they learn to deal better or is it a steady reaction that never waivers?

Cal checked his watch for the sixth time in half as many minutes. “Dammit.” He resumed his pacing and peeked at his watch as if the action would slow time and make her get there faster. He looked back at the double glass doors and ran his hands through his hair.
“Come on.” He threw his head back and when he looked again, Officer Emily Grady came through the doors and jogged down the marble tiled hall.
“Cutting it close.” Cal ushered her into the courtroom. “Judge Mersey is not a patient man. One minute more and we’d be banned from the courtroom.”
“I know, sorry Detective.”

 I find with tense moments language slips and actions become harsh and hurried. People often look up when frustrated and pull at hair or clothes. Breathing becomes an accent to the emotion and lips are pursed or bitten. Being frazzled or hurried can cause people to overlook the obvious and keep repeating an error or lose the ability to be rational. Sylvia was too focused on the deadline to examine the source of her problem. She blamed herself and couldn’t look beyond until she was interrupted and angered. Distracted from her anxiety she was able to regroup and move forward.

My advice about time.
Not every moment needs to be rush-rush, bite your nails tense. But when it is, make the most of the moment and put some stress triggers in. Remember to show the reader the moment not tell them about it.

-Sheryl

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Unravel