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

Other posts

The FAB pencil

Don’t burn the turkey!

Squeaky clean

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved
Oversight
Paragon

Spit it out!

A good story will elicit a plethora of emotions from the reader by showing a vivid selection in the story. I enjoy reading a book with juicy little details, the ones that make you smile as your eyes travel across the page taking the words and building a world in side my mind. It’s the little things, the things that many pass over or forget to add. I know I do. These little things are not something I like to see more than once or twice in a story. I don’t personally like when I find them too often or a book is over riddled with them. People don’t generally have every quirk, behavior or habit. They have some, but are generally consistent with what they do have.

While it’s funny to have someone busted for picking their nose or a wedgie when they rarely do or generally never do, once I’ve gone there with that character I don’t usually go back. Unless it’s a well-timed/placed tease later on.
The little things are not what I think of as personality flaws or plot developers, they are just a peek at a character.
Some bad behaviors or bad habits are also actions that can be natural occurrences or results of a situation.
Spitting is one of them. I’ve talked about bodily fluids and functions, spitting is both a bodily fluid and function. It is also an action with many reasons and consequences. I’m not talking about spitting a drink out in surprise or drooling, but the act of expectorating.
Reasons for spitting
Show of disgust/contempt
bad taste in mouth
habit  (I’ve noticed some smokers often spit frequently)
medical condition evolved into habit
something bad in mouth like bug or bad food
Act of aggression
To clean or polish something (yuck)
Hands off assault or insult (spitting in ones face)
It’s “Manly”  (I’m rolling my eyes)
Contaminate food
lubrication
Being silly 
Types of spitting
Precise and functional
Hawk a loogie (This includes the act of snorking snot into the throat, and adding it to the spit)
In someones face
Spray spit
Globular
The cling-on. (Yup it didn’t part ways with the mouth and is now glopping down the chin)
The long shot. (going for distance impressively disgusting)
Examples of how to use it
Amber ducked outside to the back of the building.She took out a cigarette and lit it; careful to stand with her back to the wind. Taking a long drag she closed her eyes as the familiar rush of calm washed over her. 
“That’s a filthy habit.” Scott smiled and held out his hand. “Valery’s biting my head off today.” He inhaled and handed it back.
“I noticed. Where’s your ice princess?”
“She’s not mine and apparently she’s taking some time off. Stress or something lame.”
“What a baby. You can do better.”
Scott laughed as she handed the cigarette back. “What like you?”
Her eyes narrowed and he stopped laughing. 
“Sorry Amber, but you’re not girlfriend material.”
It was Amber’s turn to laugh, she held her side as he snuffed the embers of the cigarette beneath his foot. “And you think you’re boyfriend material? Please. You can’t keep a woman interested for more than three weeks, and you only wanted Little miss frosty tits because she said no and we all bet you couldn’t bag her.”
“It’s her loss.” Scott spat on the sidewalk. 
Amber grimaced staring at the glob sticking and shining in the late morning sun. “You’re disgusting.”
“Says the cannibal who eats her hangnails.”
“I do not!”
Scott laughed as they headed back inside. “You totally do.”
Rachel frowned as Dale entered the lunchroom and started to pack up her lunch.
“Stay Rachel.” His sly smile spread as he sat adjacent to her at the end of the rectangle table. “We should talk.”
She glanced at the other end of the table at the two others and saw Amber and Scott heading toward the door. “I don’t think so.” 
“Hey guys.” Dale waved at Amber and Scott. “Rachel here is above eating lunch with me.”
“Oh are you now?” Amber opened the fridge as Scott sat on the other side of Rachel. 
“No. I have work to do.”
Dale cocked his head to the side and set his finger on her barely eaten sandwich. “Liar liar, pants on fire. Careful there Rachel your tattle tail might get burnt.” 
The five others snickered and tittered behind hands and drinks. Amber lowered her chin and swallowed hard. “Leave me alone, I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Scott picked up one of her carrot sticks. “Is that why Sasha came running to your desk yesterday and why Valery has been chewing everyone out?”
Amber’s brow knit and she glared at Dale. “I don’t know anything about that. Get your hand off my food.”
“Ooh. Someones feeling brave.” Amber crooned the words as Scott ate another carrot stick. “Rumor is you told Valery I put the shrew in Sasha’s desk.” Amber sat across from Rachel and looked at the other two. “We have rules around here, running to the superiors or bosses or the boss’s best friend is super taboo.” The other two nodded in agreement. 
“I never did. I’m sick of you all accusing me.” Rachel stood as Dale peeled back the top of her sandwich. “I slipped up that’s all and that was months ago.” She stared in horror as Dale let a string of saliva fall on her sandwich, he spat the last and laid the bread back over it. Amber and Scott both laughed. The other two fell silent. That was too far.
“I’m sick of this.” Rachel clenched her fists as Dale stood. 
“What are you going to do about it rat?” 
Rachel pulled her arm back and punched his smirking mouth hard enough to knock him on his ass. The laughter from the other end of the room was not reciprocated by Amber or Scott who stared wide-eyed. Rachel was unhurt and that hit looked practiced.
“Bitch that’s assault.” He held his bleeding lip.
“Whatever Dale, I’ve had enough of your constant abuse. Back off, leave me alone. Oh and do try not to be a hypocrite and run to the boss man to tattle that a woman half your size laid you out.” Rachel turned to Scott and Amber as the other two clapped their hands. “The same goes for you two.” Rachel stormed out.
“Ooh she got you Dale.” The man at the end of the table howled with laughter. “At your own dammed game too.”
“Shut up Terrance.” Dale got up and went to get a paper towel.
Spitting is gross(Again I don’t mean spitting out food or drink), there is no way around it. It is however a great method of showing ones character if you want to make them unappealing. There are circumstances when a well-behaved person might spit, and I might even use them if the situation calls for it. For me I will use spitting on the rare occasion and only if I need that character to be disgusting or less likable.I’ve grossed myself out enough for today.
My advice about spitting.
If you can use it and well, then go for it. Otherwise I would skip it. 
-Sheryl
Other gross posts
Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved

Elicit

Paint a desperate picture

There comes a point in writing when we need to induce stress in our readers by making our characters live it. Whether it’s a timeline crunch or a race to stop something horrible from happening. Showing the reader how the characters react and handle these situations will establish them further in their mind and hearts.  After as a writer I want people to love and hate my characters as much as I do. Making someone desperate and afraid is a great way to induce stress. 

Some sources of stress

Work/co-workers
Work deadlines
Family
Friends
Money – usually the lack of
Peer pressure
Self degradation
Illness
Threats
Blackmail/Extortion/Bribery
Holidays
Politics
Impending Danger
Active danger
I’m sure there are many more but I just wanted to suggest a few. Now, building tension and or stress is important. These are the moments, the foreshadows for something fantastic or important to the story. This is where I try to set my readers on the edge of their seats or at least be less willing to set the book down. Just one more page… The holy grail of writing, hooking the reader. This is important for many reasons. Good story telling, keeping the reader interested and dazzling the reader so they go and talk about the book to/with others and again, there are more reasons, but these are my primaries.
Stress can go hand and hand with desperation. The more stressful the situation, the more desperate a person can become. Whether the stress is real or mythical doesn’t matter, as long as I express it well. 
To do this I select a moment before the proverbial shit hits the fans. I start to ramp up the tension. This doesn’t necessarily have to be done through the protagonist. It can be anyone in the story thus far. I don’t suggest introducing a new character to create tension at this point, use someone established that has a report with the protagonist or even antagonist. If the reader likes my characters enough then they will be invested to find out what’s going to happen next. 
Cal dropped the keys, cursed and fumbled to retrieve them from the car floor in the dark. With seat-belt on and car finally started he sped out of the parking lot. 
“Dammit.” Sasha wasn’t answering her phone. His cell rang and he answered with his hands free. 
“Thorn.”
Thorn it’s Deputy Chief Jones. Miller filled me in. I have some bad news. Baylor Crowen lost his tail too.
“What!” Cal gripped the steering wheel tight as he stopped at a red light. All he asked was for eyes on both Baylor and Sasha.
The judge ruled him low risk, nobody believes he’s the guy disfiguring those women.
That was no excuse for lax officers. Cal took a deep breath avoiding a string of expletives that would get him reprimanded. “I’m on my way now to check on Miss Parsons.”
Thorn, if he’s not the guy then she’s in no danger.”
The muscles in Cal’s neck went taught as his stomach jumped. “I know it’s him. I’m going to check on her anyway.”
Do what you need to Detective. I agree with you, I think Crowen is guilty.
Cal pushed the speed limit. The Chief’s wishy-washy stance annoyed him as much now as it did earlier. A million scenarios played out in Cal’s mind. All of them berating him for not insisting Sasha have better protection. His gut and logic told him that Baylor was the guy. Sasha pissed Baylor off and he could easily get to her. She wasn’t taking this seriously enough and thought that being followed by a police cruiser was enough. 
“Thanks Chief. I’ll report in if I find anything out of the ordinary. It wouldn’t make sense for Crowen to try anything now.”
I agree. I’ll send the cruiser over to her place as well.”
“I’m almost there Chief.”
Okay then, keep me posted.” The call ended, Cal pursed his lips and flexed his white knuckled fingers. What a mess.  
The oncoming car approached too fast with their high-beams on. Cal would have to let them go by, he had more pressing matters than a car speeding. When the car swerved into his lane he steered to avoid. 
“Son of a.” Cal held his breath as the car righted at the last moment. He watched in his rear view as it careened into the ditch hard. “Of all the dammed, stupid things.” He u-turned his car around, drove closer to the ditched car and pulled over. He put his four-ways on, shook his head and got out of his car. He had to check on the idiot driver and probably arrest them. He took his phone out of his pocket to call it in and for back up. Now he was delayed for checking on Sasha who was just down the road. As he got a closer look at the vehicle, his heart skipped a beat.
“I know that car.” Cal moved fast toward the car as the driver got out.
With Cal’s nervousness, frustration and anger muddled with regret, he paints a desperate picture. Sometimes lack of judgement or complacency can lead to some pretty fantastic situations imagined or real.  The trick here is to use what I call anxious words or movements, nothing calming or ordinary. 
My advice about inducing stress.
Watch the trigger words, keep it tight and avoid filler words and wordiness. Less is more and will generate a better sense of urgency if the reader isn’t lost in a sea of description or narrative.
-Sheryl
Other stressful posts
Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved

Mythical

Sweat

When I’m writing I try to remember all the things that make us human, I talked about blood already and how we react to it.  The human body is an amazing thing and it’s movements, functions and physical being are fantastic ways to show emotion, action and even setting in a story.

When I talk about things like blood, I would use is sparingly, but what about sweat? I doubt I would have my characters sweating constantly, that’s gross. However, it can be a really good indicator for many things. Like with pretty much everything else sweating is personally unique. Some people sweat 24/7 some never sweat. Sweat is a tangible and visible que with definite possibilities

Some causes of sweat
Stress
Fear
Exertion -exercise – out of shape
Heat – room – weather – overdressed
Sick
Nervous

These are alternate words from the Thesaurus.com, some of these might earn an eye roll from the reader, since they are not common and frankly, I had no idea what transudation was.

Diaphoresis
Exudation
Transudation
Steam (This has potential)
Excretion (This just sounds gross)
Sudor (um okay…)

 Now I know the following myself words that can be used to describe sweating 

Glow
Perspire
Drip
Glisten
Swelter
Wilt
Seep
Soak
Drenched
Stain

If sweating is going to become a factor in “showing”, I ask myself can the person smell? Can that smell be part of the story? Humor maybe? Embarrassment? Or is it a pleasant smell to the sniffer? What about taste?

Amber paced Valerie’s office poking at the bandage on her forehead that covered a small cut with three stitches. She pulled on the front of her shirt rapidly to fan her sticky chest. She didn’t take the day off since the injury was minor, that and it was getting her a lot of attention.
“Fitting.” Amber grabbed another tissue and dabbed at her glistening face, her makeup was ruined for sure. “The ice queens’ best friend is a heat miser.”
“Actually.”
Amber spun around at Valerie’s voice.
“The thermostat is broken and the repair-person is on the way up.” Valery tilted her head to the side. “I asked you to my office to talk and clearly we need to have one.” Valery gestured curtly at the chair in front of her desk.

Valery slowed her pace rounding the corner to her street. She scratched at her soaked hairline as a drip of sweat tickled her neck. Smiling she began her cool down. Tonight was a personal best, three minutes faster than the night before. 

The salty taste of his neck still stung Valery’s tongue as she flopped back on the over-soft bed.
“Val baby I’m glad you told me.” Jackson smiled and looked over with his near black eyes, his forehead glistened in the dim light.
“That you’re super disgusting?”
His soft laugh filled the warm room. “Relish is not disgusting. But for you, I’ll skip it.”
“Yeah well.” Valery sat up and brushed back the strand of hair stuck to his temple. “Lucky for you you’re super-hot and I’m a sucker.”
He wagged his eyebrows. “You sure are.”
“Stop.” She smacked his chest playfully. He grabbed her wrist and brought it to his lips.

Sasha pulled her hand from the slender clammy one and resisted the temptation to run it on her jeans.
“It’s nice to meet you Andrew.” Sasha flicked her eyes sideways at her mother. Leave it to her to make dropping off a magazine for her father into a meet the new neighbors grown son; who is probably still living in their basement.
“I, um.” Andrew swallowed hard, his protruding Adams-apple bobbing under his glistening skin. The smell of the peach tart her mother schemed to serve wafted from the kitchen.
Sasha hugged her mom and wiped her still damp hand on the back of her mother’s designer blazer. “Next time you plan to ambush me, be cleverer and pre-trap me here for dinner or something.” Sasha kissed her cheek and waved at Andrew. “I have to go I have a lot of work to do and it’s been a less than pleasant day. Maybe next time I can stay longer.”

Sweat is a bodily function that can range from alluring to disgusting depending on the situation. Perception is key and so is how I set it up. What if Valery found sweat disgusting, well chances are two strikes would be too many and Jackson would be out. Tone of the words are important too, clammy wouldn’t fit in so well with at romantic encounter.

My advice about perspiration.
Don’t sweat it, use it to your advantage and keep it natural. A stained t-shirt armpit can be a turn off or a symbol of hard work it all depends on how you write it in and how the characters respond to it.

-Sheryl

Other body-ish posts
Missing body parts
In the eye of the beholder

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved

 Tart

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

Older posts

Read, revise and repeat. The shampoo process of editing.

No “Filter Word” Parking Here

Copyright © 2016 All rights reserved
Banned
Unravel