youXfoundXme’s The Only Girl in the Band edits

It’s always a good idea to read it as intended so here’s a link to the original. 

 

I realize this is one of your older works, but the newer stuff is just as bad. Because this was last updated in 2011, I assume it’s finished so I can properly critique it and you should be objective enough to look at it without too much sentimentality. I won’t read past the first 1,000 words or so either since the first scene can’t rely on later ones to make it worthwhile. If it tries  that, no one will get past it.

Ch. 1

 

P1 S1

“Vanessa Nicole Laine.

No one does this, not even parents. This was concocted by stupid sitcoms in the 70s and hasn’t died yet. Stop it. People are more likely to bark a single name because that’ll have more punch. Shorten this to “Laine!”

But is this really the start you want? Some faceless guy who is irrelevant to the scene yelling at her? It’s boring. I read that first line and knew immediately your story wouldn’t be good because it starts off poorly. I’m not going to wait for it to get good. If you can’t manage a beginning, the easiest part of a story, then why should I look forward to the tricky parts of storytelling?

S2 – S3

Take those headphones out of your ears. It gives a bad impression to the customers,” my manager, Mr. Newton, barked at me.

This introduces music to your story. It would be a better start than S1, but still weak. It could have interesting thematic meaning if the entirety of the story centers around people telling her to knock it off with the music and get back to work.  

But right now, it’s bland. Mr. Newton lacks personality. He’s grouchy; bosses usually are when employees are listening to music instead of working. It doesn’t identify him as anything but a boss. It sort of identifies Vanessa as a slacker who cares more about listening to music than working, but that’s all teenagers and though you mean for her to be in her 20s, she feels like a teen. Maybe because you’re a teen or you haven’t had enough suffering in your life to realize what’s important in life so you can’t realize what’s important in storytelling.

Here are some suggestions to how to keep this idea but improve it with personality, tone, humor, and visual appeal. Mr. Newton is doing some terrific balancing act with pitchers of beer and hot wings while Vanessa drums on her empty pad meant for orders while the door chimes with new customers who are waiting to be waited on. Maybe they’re standing at a “Please Wait to be Seated” sign looking around at empty tables and noting how some need busing. Mr. Newton passes Vanessa, who has her earphones in and iPod on another counter with the cord spanning the linoleum canyon between. Mr. Newton runs into the cord and the earbuds pop out from her ears and land in the dipping sauce. Then Mr. Newton yells at her to knock it off with the hip-hop or whatever he assumes she’s listening to (maybe he’s a bit racist about it and calls it jungle music or maybe he’s old-timey and tells her to knock it off with the funk). She acquiesces with a “Yes, Mr. Newton” and absent-mindedly returns the earbud to her ear without wiping off the garlic sauce.

That’s a suggestion. It’s not even writing—it’s just an idea. You can go anywhere with the beginning. You can open up with a crazy stunt so long as it’s believable and interesting. It’ll set the tone of your story. If you want to write comedy (the tags are Teen Lit and Humor), write some witty or zany beginning so we know that’s the tone you’ll have throughout. If this were screenwriting, you could have a musical cacophony of door chimes, teapot whistling, and chatter as Vanessa bops along to it (not the most original idea, but it’s fresh enough that you can get away with it). How important is That Food Place as a setting? Is it the main setting? If it is, if it’s where Vanessa’s future band plays a number of gigs, then you can start off with a description of the restaurant. Where is it? What’s it look like? What’s above it? Around it?

You could also characterize That Food Place by characterizing Mr. Newton. How does he carry the food? Does he use old shirts with pit stains as pot holders? Does he have a long, yellow thumbnail that he places in the soup as he carries a bowl and then in front of the customer, he sucks off the flavor from his thumbnail while asking “Can I get you anything else?” You call him a psychopath later but how is he a psychopath? You need some visual details and actions to characterize people because your dialogue is easily dismissed. Readers could skip this scene and not care. It has no impact.

S4

I groaned and pulled out my earphones and tucked them in the pocket of my khaki pants.

 

Here’s a detail and it’s a bad one. What’s interesting about pockets? Or khakis? We can vaguely picture her pants now but why should we? They’re pants. Who cares?

The groaning is okay but what’s she groaning? Is she muttering under her breath? Or does she put up a smile and say “Okay, sir! Sorry, sir!” and then he leaves and she gnashes her teeth at him?

P1 Revision: That Food Place was on the corner of Skenk and Oskaloosa, beneath a preschool. During quiet hours, the children’s pitter-patter footsteps gave the illusion of rain. Then one would shriek the way children do that makes it seem like someone’s getting murdered. We ignored it. The pub was locally famous for its breakfast food, but breakfast time had our dead hours. Everyone wanted brinner. Plates dribbled with grease from the Breakfast Bonanza (eggs, pancakes,  bacon, sausage, ham, hash brown, and milk or coffee). Dishes were a pain to wash. They were a pain to carry too because grease always splashed onto my uniform and the manager Mr. Newton would make me buy a new one if the spot didn’t wash out. It never did. It was a tradition that he took out thirty bucks each0 paycheck to replace my uniform. The old ones I gave to him because I wasn’t about to go to Chem class with “That Food Place” plastered across my chest. He used those rags as potholders. When I started here, he used his own shirts which had pit stains and little curly-cue hairs practically woven into the seams.

 

I tapped my pen on the order pad which had faint impressions of past orders. I drummed to the rhythm of my favorite song—well, one of them. I had about a thousand favorites. Every great song became my favorite and it’d go on repeat till I needed a break or got nostalgic for a previous favorite. Today’s top hit was Terrorist Love. “You ripped open my chest, pulled out my heart, and replaced it with a ticking bomb.” The lyrics were gruesome! But the bass is really what sold it. It had my phone thumping on the counter while the cord to my earbuds spanned the linoleum canyon.

 

Mr. Newton carried a pitcher of beer to some college kids with fake IDs. I knew them. They were in my Lit class. They were freshmen. Mr. Newton should’ve guessed by how much they giggled when he took their order. They had also ordered chicken wings with our golden garlic sauce. When Mr. Newton walked by, he got tangled in my cord and the earbuds popped out. One landed in the garlic sauce. But I was frantic because he had also tugged my phone from the counter and it had crashed to the floor. It’d taken a month’s paycheck and it had about 10,000 songs. I stuck the earbud back in and luckily the phone was still working. But I had forgotten about the garlic and now my ear canal was slimy with it.

 

“Laine!” Mr. Newton raged in a whisper so customers wouldn’t hear. “We’ve got customers waiting to be waited on. They’ve been standing at the ‘Please Wait to be Seated’ sign for five minutes! Shut off your Walkman and do your job.”

 

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

 

“And bus table four. Ray’s on break and I’m sure as hell not doing it.” He left to deliver the beer and chicken wings. His thumb, which had a long and yellow nail, had rested on the rim of the plate and touched one of the chicken wings. He sucked it clean of flavor then asked the boys, “What else can I get you, gentleman?”

 

I gnashed my teeth at his back and stuck my earbud back in. But the song was over. I seated the customers.

 

This is just a possible revision. It’s not great but I have to invent characteristics because nothing existed before. If you have a better idea for the story, then do it, but do it well. It takes work. Your readers should be saying “I have a good imagination so I can picture the story easily” because the read was so smooth and simple that they don’t even realize you planted those images inside their noggins.

 

P2 S1

I hated my job.

 

You need to show this before you can state it. And once you’ve shown it, you might not even need to state it. It’s up to you. I’d still say it for this piece.

 

S2

I was 20 years old and I worked at the local diner, cleverly named That Food Place, serving greasy food and strong coffee.

 

You can just say “I was 20 and worked….” The “years old” is implied.

 

The name is not clever. You know that. You don’t need to sarcastically say “clever.” The stupid ironical name will make people hate it enough as is. Don’t bog it down with dead words.

“Greasy food and strong coffee” are trite details. Everyone tries to describe American diners that way. Maybe they are all like that but then it’s a meaningless descriptor. Descriptors are meant to individualize a person, place or thing, not make it generic. And a place named That Food Place seems like it’d be more pretentious than just a diner. The two things contradict each other. You can leave the details because contradictions happen in reality. And how many diners have music shows? Normally those are reserved for pubs because they’re open late and serve alcohol, which makes performing easier and audiences friendlier.

More interesting details might be “That Food Place had a nutrition regimen hung on the walls. It promised results fast if you ate there everyday. In just a week, you’ll need new pants. In a month, you’ll be unrecognizable. After a year, you’ll be dead from clogged arteries.” There’s a chain called The Heart Attack Grill that uses similar marketing tactics. Or you could make it like Denny’s where they serve breakfast 24/7 and only newcomers order anything off the dinner or lunch menus and often the newcomers never come back because Mr. Newton is inept at anything but bacon, sausage, eggs, ham, and pancakes. Maybe some foreigners came in once and ordered a crepe and he just pointed to the door. Give us some real detail about a real restaurant or else we won’t believe this is a real place. Good fiction is generally about 50% made up and the rest is drawn from reality.

You can also use the patrons to describe the diner. Are they hipsters? Truckers? Families with newborns and one mother doesn’t mind giving a show to gawking teenage boys as she feeds her baby? Does Mr. Newton hang pictures of celebrities on the wall claiming they frequent the place but no one’s ever seen any of them? You have a lot of options on how to characterize the diner and a lot of them will make us sympathetic to Vanessa as she slaves there. 

 

S3

But it was a job.

 

This is a common sentiment. I won’t tell you to cut it out, but it only has impact if readers can see that it’s a miserable place and she’s only working there for the money and not a passion for waiting tables.

 

S4

And I needed money to pay for college.

 

“to pay” is unnecessary. Cut it down to “And I needed money for college” because what else would you do with money but pay for things? It’s only two words and I’m being a stickler, but economic writing means using as few words as possible to express yourself without losing vividness. I’m not asking for terse prose, but don’t include words or images that people will just gloss over because if they get in the that habit, on page 100 they’ll only be reading every other line because they know they’re not missing much. You could combine S3 and S4 to just “But I needed tuition money.”

 

S5 – S6

I guess the only good thing about working there was that every Friday night, any local talent would perform on stage in the back center of the restaraunt[sic]. That included poets, singers, musicians, dancers.

 

[sic] is a symbol that points to an error made by the author and since I typed this up, I wanted to emphasize that I did not misrepresent the author by misspelling a word for her. Restaurant. The U goes after the first A.

Cut out “I guess.” We don’t need your narrator to be wishy-washy about this. She can elsewhere but here, she knows this is the only good thing about it and there’s no reason to be uncertain. And cut out “the only good thing.” That’s lazy writing. You’re telling us it’s a good thing when you should be showing it. You can easily do that by starting with “However, every Friday night….”

You don’t need “any” before “local.” Or “would.” We don’t care about the specifics of where the stage is. It’s a boring detail and doesn’t create a better image in our mind. You don’t even need to tell us there’s a stage actually. We assume the bands aren’t doing this in the midst of the tables or on top of the bar. They’re not performing in the kitchen. 

So we’ve pared S5 down to “However, every Friday night local talent performed.” Local talent is a general, vague description that you clear up in S6. Combine the two sentences . “However, every Friday night local poets, musicians, and dancers performed.”

The “talents” are still boring because of how expected they are. You could spice it up with “There was even a masochist of a juggler that was a regular and he always got booed.” You could replace juggler with magician, unicyclist, or any other kitschy talent, if you’re interested in being humorous.

 

S7

Some people sucked. A lot.

 

Combine this to “Most sucked.” It’s shorter and has more punch and it still expresses the same idea. It also gives the previous sentence more impact.

 

S8

So much so that people would throw their over-priced food at them.

 

Don’t continue the last sentence with this next one. It shouldn’t bleed over. That sentence is done and we’re moving on. Transitions just add words to a sentence that are deadwood because we already know those details because we just read them. I think you’re doing this because you realize that it’s a generic description to say they suck and you want people to know that they really really really really really suck but you’re not sure how to do that. Show it. Give us a few descriptions of bad performances. Does some guitarist mess up the second riff and then he says “Hold on, hold on, let me start over” and repeats that till he runs from the stage to the bathroom where he vomits? Do drunk girls just warble “Girls just wanna have fun” and sensually lick the mic while staring at some frat boys? Does a comic start insulting people just so they pay attention to him? Either way, cut out “So much so that” and just start the sentence with “People would throw….”

 

Have you ever seen this in real life? I haven’t. I go to open mic nights on occasion and I’ve never seen a malicious crowd, even when drunk. There might be a few hecklers or friends might chirp the guy, but mostly people are polite about their disdain because they’re going to the performance knowing it’ll be bad. I have a hard time believing this detail. If you had set the tone for caricature and comedy, I might believe it but it’s a stale idea that you see in cartoons and rarely in life.

If you’ve seen food being thrown at amateurs, then keep the detail.  But be specific about it. What are they throwing? Lobster and steak? Bottles? Used tissues? Do they just squirt ketchup? I can’t picture “food” because it’s an abstract word. You want to bring the level of abstraction down with concrete nouns like “wienerschnitzel, ham and cheese omelette, supreme pizza, frappamochaccino expressos.” The type of food can further characterize the restaurant.

“Over-priced” doesn’t need a hyphen either and it’s better to tell us the price of the food.

Possible Revision: Drunk girls who were out for a gals’ night would warble “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” into the mic and when they forgot the lyrics they’d sensually lick the microphone while staring at the beefiest frat boy. Last week, an Australian was doing pretty well with the ladies as his accent was a better aphrodisiac than our twenty-dollar oysters or even alcohol and he was ready to seal the deal by strumming “Livin’ on a Prayer” as his groupies belted it out, but he got to the second riff and fumbled his pick. “Hold on, let me start over,” he said and the fans let him have the mulligan. “Hold on, let me start over.” They clapped to give him some confidence. “Hold on, let me start over.” Eventually they left. The people gave an award to the worst stinkers: they’d squirt ketchup on them, and then they’d complain that their ten-dollar hamburger was dry.

 

But be weary of too much detail. Overwriting can make it worse because people have to slog through.

 

S9

But some people were actually really good.

 

Half of this sentence is unnecessary words. “People,” “actually,” and “really.” We know that “some” refers to people. It’s implied. “Actually” is redundant because of “but.” “But” is a contradicting word so we know whatever was true in the last sentence won’t be true for this one. “Really” is an intensifier but what’s the difference between really good and good? Not much to readers so just tell us they were good.

How were they good? Was it what they played? Did they know all the chords to their instruments? Did they have good banter with the crowd? This one I would let slide without detail if there’s a big build-up of terrible acts, but alone it’s not enough. The difference between bad writing and good writing can be a few lines.

 

 

S10

And it was those people that made it worth working there.

 

Cut this line. It’s sappy and better left implied.

P2 Revision: I hated my job, but tuition bills were always coming and I couldn’t ignore them (I tried that with the first one). And at least every Friday, local poets, musicians, and comics provided free entertainment in hopes of striking it big. Mr. Newton occasionally secreted the rumor that a talent agent was in the crowd. It was just his brother planted at a back table with a notepad where he doodled. People probably knew it was a sham but they loved performing.

 

Most sucked. Drunk girls who were out for a gals’ night would warble “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” into the mic and when they forgot the lyrics they’d sensually lick the microphone while staring at the beefiest frat boy. Last week, an Australian was doing pretty well with the ladies as his accent was a better aphrodisiac than our twenty-dollar oysters or even alcohol and he was ready to seal the deal by strumming “Livin’ on a Prayer” as his groupies belted it out, but he got to the second riff and fumbled his pick. “Hold on, let me start over,” he said and the fans let him have the mulligan. “Hold on, let me start over.” They clapped to give him some confidence. “Hold on.” Eventually they left. The audience gave an award to the worst stinkers: they’d squirt ketchup on them, and then they’d complain that their ten-dollar hamburgers were dry. Yeah, most sucked.

 

But some were good. They actually knew the chords of their instruments.

 

 

P3 S1

I myself am an aspiring musician.

“I myself?” Who else would “I” refer to? It’s not a common name in any culture, especially not an English speaking one, so we can assume “I” and “myself” are the same person and cut the reflexive pronoun. It makes the line stiff and awkward, which makes it stand out but not in a good way. A good way to catch awkward lines to read them aloud. You’ll hear how unnatural it sounds.

You switch to present tense for one line and the rest of the narrative is past. That’s grating to a close reader. If you saw this in a novel, you’d stumble over it and wonder how it ever got by editors since it’s such an easy fix—take out the reflexive pronoun and keep the verb tense constant.

Reflexive pronouns are too often used for emphasis but what are you emphasizing here? Maybe if it was an astonishing revelation in the midst of chaos of details, you’d want to somehow emphasize the line, but this is dull  and will be obvious as the story goes on. It doesn’t need to stand out. It’s obvious from the title. The whole line is boring and unnecessary. It would be better replaced with the following anecdote or cut altogether. It shows motivation but a paltry one. You could characterize her as humble or just starting out on this dream with a line like “I liked to sing, too. Just to the shower head or alone in the car. Maybe one day I’d get a night off and could get up there and give it a try.”

 

S2

I would secretly sing to my showerhead in the apartment that I shared with my annoying Barbie-doll roommate and best friend, Mae Strauss (pronounced May).

How else would you pronounce Mae if not May? My? Why bother spelling it differently from it’s pronunciation if you’re that concerned with how it’s said aloud by people you’ll never hear? J.K. Rowling waited until the 4th book of Harry Potter, an international bestseller, to clarify how Hermione should be said. That’s an odd name that people would be unsure about, but Mae isn’t. These are just wasted words.

You’re introducing irrelevant details with the apartment and roommate. She hasn’t arrived yet. You don’t have to warn us for her arrival either, especially not with such vague details. It’s colorless. Who cares about Mae? Who cares about your apartment? We care about the girl in the shower wailing about…what does she sing? You’re already struggling with one character and you’ve thrown in another to clog our heads. Do the work for us and characterize Vanessa before you move onto another character or bring in Mae immediately and have their interaction characterize both of them. That’s generally how it’s done and should be done because just telling us that Vanessa doesn’t like her job isn’t interesting, but if she rants to Mae about him, their friendship tells us something about them and their situation.  

Why does she want to be a musician? Money? Fame? Fun? Because she can’t stop humming tunes that have never appeared on the radio or her iPod? Is her butt wiggling as she strolls down the street to whatever rhythm’s in her head? Right now the dream is undeveloped and so conventional that who cares? Has she spent years perfecting her drumming or vocals? How is this anything but a flighty fancy of a teen? There’s no depth to it and if she were real, she’d give it up because she just briefly thought it’d be cool to be on stage like whoever her favorite lead singer is and never grew up enough to actually pursue it in any way but singing to a shower head.

That could be an interesting plot point. Let’s say she has some talent but her interest is immature. She just thinks it’d be cool to be in a band. But bands are hard work, a lot of travel, a lot of sacrifices, working two jobs to afford life and the hobby that might one day lead to stardom but will most likely just be a crushed dream that weighs on your spirit the next time you have to take a chance. And the people in the band she joins might know all this and so she might meet with tension because of it. “This life isn’t so easy that you can just pick up a mic and start singing and fill your bank account. I’ve been performing since I was twelve and I haven’t eaten this week because I needed a new amp.” Something like that. But that’s for later on.

 

S3

She was always telling me to perform TFP. My problem? I had stage fright.

 

Perform TFP? Do you mean perform at TFP? And again, this line is telling us some boring detail. It’s important but just telling it to us isn’t interesting. Your job is to entertain. Show it in conversation. Have Mae encouraging Nessie to get up there and shake her ass for the crowd or whatever colorful thing Mae might say and then Vanessa can resist.

P3 Revision: I liked to sing, too. Just to the showerhead or alone in the car. Maybe one day I’d get a night off and could get up there and give it a try.

 

P4 S1 – S2

When I was 10, I got picked to be one of the leads in a school play about the pilgrims and native americans [sic]. It was some corny musical version of the historical event and I got picked to play Pocahontas.

 

 

Capitalize Native Americans.

 

Combine these sentences to “When I was 10, I got picked to be Pocahontas in some corny musical about the pilgrims.” Everything else is unnecessary and cluttering your writing. If you want to expand your writing, great! But do it with good details and not with wordiness. 

 

S3

Why?

 

No one asked. At 10 years old, we assume names were drawn out of a hat. It’s not a high school production where people actually try out and are expected know their lines. They show up, mumble a tune, and the teacher points to her favorite student to be the lead. Don’t ask rhetorical questions if they’re stupid. Don’t ask any rhetorical questions actually. Why? Because it’s the mark of an amateur.

 

S4

Because I had a good voice and a knack for acting.

 

No one will believe this. Maybe it’s what your mom told you, but the brothers and sisters and other people dragged to this performance will dread every second of it. There are few people talented enough to make an elementary school-appropriate play bearable. They’ll believe you were the only kid who cared enough. Or that you were the favorite student because you sucked up and organized the supply shelf during recess. Or that you were the only student without your finger up your nose. Be a little self-deprecating. Laugh about it. Don’t brag about being the lead of a play at 10 years old. If you were chosen during high school, maybe you can boast but it’s going to make people roll their eyes.

Whatever details you replace this with, make them more interesting and solid than such vague descriptors.

 

S5

So I got on stage on opening night and promptly threw up on my leading man, John Smith.

 

This is a decent detail. A little expected but not everything has to be original. Sometimes we like familiar anecdotes. I would offer some changes though: “So I got on stage and while stuttering my first line, I caught the eyes of the audience. They were all staring at me through camcorders. I promptly threw up on John Smith.” Whatever you do, take out “my leading man.” Your audience knows the story of  Pocahontas and they know John Smith is the leading man. Telling us is unnecessary. It’s like saying “I’m about to read the story, Catch-22.” Even if people aren’t familiar with Catch-22 specifically, they’ll know from the verb “reading” that it’s a story so you can just take that out and have cleaner writing.

 

S6

And just like that, I was done performing in front of people.

 

There are a lot of reasons to stop performing. Some childhood mishap is not one of them. Maybe if she were a teen and it happened, it’d be more believable. Teens are self-conscious and awkward and aware of the social pressures at school and any embarrassment can turn them into a recluse. But generally people don’t perform because they just don’t care. Not everyone likes the interpretative arts, especially in America where you’re more likely to perform as an athlete or just be ignored and so you become a creative artist instead, doing paintings and stories that you post on the internet.

The sentence is implied too. The previous vomit anecdote shows us Vanessa has stage fright. There’s no need to tell us she never performed ever again. We don’t care if she never performed again, frankly. We just care that getting up in front of people, even her friends and classmates to give a speech or an audience of pious old ladies who are deaf and too polite to criticize some young girl in the choir, makes her tremble.

P4 Revision: When I was 10, I got picked to be Pocahontas in some corny musical about the pilgrims. So I got on stage and while stuttering my first line, I caught the eyes of the audience. They were all staring at me through camcorders. I promptly threw up on John Smith.

 

P5 S1

“Earth to Nessie,” I heard a voice say.

 

Is this the opening line you want for the best friend, presumably a main support character? Not only is it trite and boring, it doesn’t tell us anything about her. At best, we get a nickname for Vanessa (a decent nickname too so keep it but put it somewhere else).

What is her personality? Is she a ditz? An attention whore? Real people can’t be summed up easily but you can at least toss out a handful of adjectives to get close to their personality. But I can’t think of any for Mae except what’s stated because she’s a boring character. I’m examining this closer than your audience too so I should be able to pick out something interesting about her but I can’t. I don’t even know what she looks like other than blonde hair, blue eyes and that pretty much describes everyone in Sweden. What are some flaws that she overcorrects? Does she have a snaggle-tooth so she constantly bleaches her teeth till they glow in the dark? Is her hair unnaturally blonde? Are her tits scrunched up with a push-up bra? You’re writing for teens, right? So use their fads and insecurities to characterize her.

Is Mae goofy? Does she come up behind Vanessa and grab her shoulders and shake her while saying “Ah! Earthquake!” and then she has a big laugh at her own joke? Is she vulgar? Does she just launch into a sexcapade at full volume ignoring the eager looks of some nearby boys? Does she immediately start to whine about how she has homework tonight even though it’s Thursty Thursday and professors just don’t get that she has a life outside polynomials? What is some personality trait that you can capture in a single utterance?

Even if you keep her Barbie personality, do something fresh with her. Make her a whiz at calculus or someone who studies most weekdays. Maybe she volunteers at an animal shelter and she doesn’t mind cleaning all the poo because she just wants someone to cuddle with. Give her a borderline personality when she’s alone. Give Mae her own life outside of the story that occasionally bleeds over to our view. Be subversive and don’t play into every expectation about her hair color. All of that doesn’t need to be captured now, however. It’s just a note for future development of the character. Some of it can be shown now, but keep the focus on Vanessa.

Also, Vanessa would immediately recognize the voice if they’re roommates and best friends. Cut out this “I heard a voice” crap that novices always want to do. It doesn’t build suspense. It just delays information. Tell us immediately who the voice belongs to. “…,’ Mae said. Mae Strauss was my roommate and best friend…”

 

S2

I saw fingers with neon pink nail polish on them snap in front of me and I blinked.

 

Everything that the audience sees, we assume the narrator sees too. Don’t ever say “I saw.” It makes a sentence weaker than it needs to be. If you did it for everything Vanessa sees, you’d say it in just about every sentence and when someone talks you’d start with “I heard.” Switch it around to “Pink nails snapped in front of me.”

Blinking is not interesting. I do it once every five seconds. Women do it twice as much on average. If you’re going to tell us every time someone blinks, it’s going to get annoying. Don’t tell us even once. Vanessa could flinch, fall out of her chair, spill her coffee, anything that might show us she’s startled because she was zoned out until now. But blinking doesn’t tell us that. It just tells us she’s alive, which I guess is news since her personality is lifeless. 

P5 Revision:

My thumb was looking for a new song on my phone, but nothing meshed with my mood, and I kept scrolling and scrolling and scrolling till I was lost in the remnants of my favorites from high school. Mae grabbed my shoulders from behind and cried, “Earthquake!” then got into a fit of giggles at her own joke. She didn’t care that people stared since she looked good. She was my roommate and best friend since third grade when we both had a crush on the same boy. He went for her.

P6 S1

“Hey Mae,” I said smiling at the rhyme that never got old.

 

This is okay. It’s not great, but I’d let you keep it. But you need to accommodate basic punctuation conventions. Put a comma before the name: “Hey, Mae.”

Then I’d put a period after Mae. You show us an action of Vanessa after her speech, so we can assume Vanessa is talking and Mae isn’t chatting with herself. “‘Hey, Mae.’ I smiled at the rhyme.”

 

S2

In front of me stood a pretty girl, with long, wavy blonde hair and bright blue eyes.

 

We don’t care where she’s standing. We don’t care that she’s standing.

Don’t string long, wavy, and blonde together. Three adjectives in front of a noun is too many, especially such boring adjectives. Also this description shouldn’t be mixed in with Vanessa’s dialogue. Give it a paragraph with Mae as the lead. Think of paragraphs like a camera. Whenever you turn the camera to look at someone new, make a paragraph. You can either throw this in P5 or put it with P7.

 

P7

“You know, no wonder you never get any tips. It’s because you zone out so much,” Mae said.

 

This is just boring. You need to show it before Mae walks in and narrates what the narrator is doing. And don’t just tell us she’s zoned out. Tell us what she’s doing. Is she staring at a burrito spinning under a hot lamp? Is she lost in music (seems like she should be)? What has her mind occupied? It can’t be the open mic night because that should be so ingrained in her routine that she hardly gives it any thought. 

P7 Revision: “Nessie, I’ve been standing her for like an hour. This is why you never have rent money. Customers won’t tip airheads unless they show a little something-something.” Mae brushed her wavy blonde hair behind her so her cleavage was out.

 

P8 S1

“You’re right. It can’t be that my psychopath boss steals them all,” I replied.

 

Cut out the “You’re right.” It’s unnecessary. It’s like if someone asked is the weather nice and you say “No, it’s raining.” If you cut it down to just the informative part, the “It’s raining,” then it’s a cleaner read and we still get the answer. Audiences don’t miss what they never see.

You need to show that he’s a psychopath before you tell us.

Don’t use too many dialogue tags beyond he said, she asked, he barked, she shouted, he shrieked, she yelled, he mumbled, her murmured. There are others that are worthwhile too but replied, responded, shot back, answered, retorted, and all those other synonyms for “said” are worthless. Just say said. People don’t get tired of it easily. But if you’re using “said” too much, then use an action to show us who’s talking. Example: “It couldn’t be that my psychopath boss steals them.” I rattled the full jar in her face. It was never full at the end of the night.”

This gives us some visual appeal and because we can see someone doing something around the time of the speech, we assume they’re speaking.

 

S2

She rolled her eyes.

 

This should not be in with Vanessa’s dialogue and don’t have people rolling their eyes to show dismissal or disdain. It’s like sighing or blushing or biting your nails. At one point it was a vivid descriptor that showed personality, but it’s so commonplace now that it tells and it’s boring and the mark of laziness. She could say “Mhmm” as she checks for new texts on her phone. That would show dismissal and disbelief and could start a pattern of selfishness for Mae. 

 

S3

“What are you doing here? It’s a Thursday night. You’re supposed to be at a club,” I asked.

 

This is more telling. You’re telling us that she frequents clubs in the most obvious and boring way possible. Be descriptive! Let your characters have some wit. Let them show the language of their age. “What are you doing here anyway? It’s Thursty Thursday. Shouldn’t you be twerking down at The Shadow Lounge?” I asked.

 

And don’t just tell us “at a club.” Name a club she likes. Give it a pretentious name or a sleazy name or whatever kind of club she likes. Just go to google and type in night clubs and you’ll get lists of them from all over the world. Or if you’re familiar with night clubs in your area, use one of those names that stands out. 

P8 Revision: “It couldn’t be that my psychopath boss steals them.” I rattled the full jar in her face. It was never full at the end of the night.

 

“Mhmmm.” Mae checked her cracked iPhone for new texts. She had a dozen. She sent winking smileys to each of the boys.

 

“What are you doing here anyway? It’s Thursty Thursday. Shouldn’t you be twerking down at The Shadow Lounge?” I asked.

 

Twerking might be a little mature for publishers of teen lit, but you can get away with it online.

 

P9 S1

“Psh. And leave my best friend here?” she said, waving her hand.

 

Don’t do sound effects. They’re never as wonderful for the reader as they are for you. Most people skip them because they don’t add any information.

Why is she waving her hand? That’s visual appeal, but it doesn’t make any sense. People wave to greet others, to fan away bad smells, and to fan themselves, but I don’t understand why she’d wave her. Is she being dismissive, like waving her off? You need a better action that waving to show that. But I don’t know why she would be dismissive here anyway. It’d make more sense to feign injury or play like she’s only here to give of herself while Vanessa slaves for half of minimum wage.

Also, when you have a dialogue tag like “she said,” it’s cleaner writing to put the following verb after a conjunction, instead of in the progressive form. So instead of what you have, it’s cleaner to put it “she said and waved her hand.” It’s better for reasons I can’t explain but professionals generally agree on that point and if you read each aloud, you’ll hopefully agree too. It’s not a taboo to use the progressive, but as a general rule, you should use simple verb tenses instead.  

 

S2

I raised an eyebrow at her.

 

This is like sighing, biting nails, rolling eyes, and blushing. It’s telling. People do it in real life, but in writing, it’s become boring. Maybe have Vanessa flick her forehead every time she lies (but that’s a pattern you’ll have continue so people understand and now isn’t the best time to start it). Or have her say something like “The truth, please.” Whatever you do, you need a new paragraph.

 

S3

She smiled.

 

I don’t care. Everyone’s always smiling in amateur fiction. Is that a shocking detail to anyone? I generally assume people smile on occasion. Cut it out.

 

S4

“Ok, ok. I was actually about to go get ready to go. But I wanted to ask you if you were working tomorrow first,” she said.

 

The oks can stay. I’d rather get rid of them because we won’t miss them afterwards, but you’re trying to show Mae admitting that she lied so maybe keep them.

Read this aloud “I was actually about to go get ready to go.” Do you hear how awkward that sounds? It’s much too wordy considering it’s a short sentence.  Just make it “I was about to go.” People are more likely to speak in short sentences than long ones. Your dialogue should have the ring of real speech. That also means you’re allowed fragments. 

It’s a good break in the sentence between the “…go.” and “But…” It shows us a pause, like she’s hesitating or saying the second sentence as an afterthought.

The second sentence in that dialogue is awkward though. Mainly because of the “first” at the end. It would fit better after “But,” but I’d cut it out. The “first” is unnecessary verbiage. 

 

P9 Revision: “And leave my best friend here?” she asked with a gasp. She embraced me tenderly. Her pungent perfume mixed with the stench of pregaming.

 

Her hair got caught in my mouth and I spat it out. I shoved her away. “The truth, please,” I said.

 

“Ok, ok. I was about to get ready. But I wanted to ask if you’re working tomorrow.”

 

The pregaming detail might be too mature for your audience if you’re writing for teens. Teens will probably know what it is since most are drinking by 16, but if you ever try to get a story published for teens, adults like to think kids are innocent and never cuss and never drink or do drugs and don’t lie to porn sites about their birth year. But if you’re content publishing online, it’s a detail worth including. People rarely go to clubs without enjoying alcohol before, during, or after.  

 

P10

“No, I’m off. For once,” I said.

 

Just cut out the “No.” We won’t miss it.

 

P11

“Perfect! Will you come to the Sunset Grill with me tomorrow night?” she asked.

 

The difference between the “Perfect!” and the “No,” in the previous paragraph is that “Perfect!” shows her excitement so it’s worth keeping.

 

You can slim the second portion of the speech down to “Want to come to the Sunset Grill tomorrow night?”

 

The “T” in “the Sunset Grill” might be capitalized. It depends if “the” is part of the name of the restaurant. I’d capitalize it but I don’t know the restaurant, if it’s a real one.

 

Why are they going to a grill on a Friday night to listen to a band? You’re more likely to hear it in a club, a pub, or something where alcohol is served. Or a coffee shop but those are usually earlier in the day. Whether I’ve lived in small towns or cities, I’ve never gone to a grill that had live music. I’m challenging it and I can’t move past it with a pleasant mindset.

 

It’s been very talky since Mae got here. Not much action, not much scenery. Characters can’t just stand and talk. They should be doing something. Is Mae fidgeting with her phone? Is she scoping out the talent at That Food Place? Is she checking her make-up? What’s Vanessa doing? What’s going on in the background? I need something more than just a conversation between the girls. If you put it here, then there can be a pause between Vanessa’s next line as she mulls over the offer.

 

P12 S1

“Why?” I asked.

 

This is boring dialogue. It’d be more interesting and have the same affect to have Vanessa resisting the invitation, either by politely declining because she doesn’t like the patrons of The Sunset Grill or because she wants her night off to actually be a relaxing experience. Then Mae can convince her and plead with her.

 

P12 Revision: “I don’t know, Mae. It’s my only night off and I really just want to sleep or catch up on homework or relax. I don’t even know what’s on TV anymore.”

 

P13 S1

“Because…I met this guy.

 

Ellipses do not show pause. This is a barbarism perpetrated by the internet crowd. Ellipses show that something is being skipped, like the other end of a phone conversation that someone can’t hear or if Mae is telling a long story and Vanessa isn’t listening, the story can fade off after a line or two and then gets picked up at the end. Maybe you remember using them for term papers when you had to skip lines of research because academic writers are long-winded and only some of it was relevant to your paper. But they do not show pauses. That’s neon sign that someone is uneducated about English language conventions.

 

S2

And he works there.

 

You don’t need the “And.”

 

What’s he do there? Is he a manager? Is he older? Is he a bus boy? Does he tend bar and she’s hoping he’s more likely to believe her fake ID if she flirts with him?

 

S3

And he told me to come.

 

You’re setting up a pattern of speech that could be effective if the sentences worked in succession. But they don’t. “And” is a conjunction that combines two things (sentences, clauses, nouns, etc) but these don’t need to be connected like that.

 

This sentence is especially bothersome. Why did he tell you to come by? What was his excuse? Guys aren’t going to just tell a girl “Come visit me at work.” They’ll say “I tend bar at the Sunset Grill. You should come by and see this band playing on Friday. I hear they’re pretty loud.”  It has the same affect but it’s the social contract that by saying this, he’s actually telling her to come hang out with him while he’s working and if she agrees to see the band, she’s actually agreeing to hang out with him.

 

I’d change it to “He said I should check out this band. They’re supposed to really loud.” Of course, “loud” could be replaced by other ridiculous adjectives like sick, wild, thumping. But use the language of their age to build credibility that this is a real world you’ve created.

 

S4

And I don’t want to go alone,” she replied.

 

I’d change this so it has more impact and shows her as being manipulative. Maybe something like “‘Don’t make me go alone!’ she pleaded.”

 

Again, don’t use said-synonyms. She could plead or beg in this situation.

 

P13 Revision:  “But I met this guy. He works there. Tends bar or something. He said I should check out this band they’ve got playing. They’re supposed to be really loud. Don’t make me go alone!” she pleaded.

 

P14 S1

“I still don’t understand why I have to go.

 

This is just unnecessary. Cut the sentence.

 

S2

To serve as your third-wheel? I’d rather not,” I said.

 

Trite imagery. I might let you get away with it if you had other rich descriptions but you don’t and we’re here to learn so let’s come up with something better. Maybe show us something that would be unpleasant to watch like Mae and the guy grinding or his tongue grazing her ear as he whispers to her to be heard above the music. Or maybe Vanessa can’t stand Mae’s fake laugh that she uses to reel in the hunky but boring boys.

 

P14 Revision: “I love you, Mae, but I can’t stand another night of your fake, flirty laugh. It’s a miracle the boys don’t go running from it either. You’re bored by their jokes. They’re repulsed by your cackle. Why bother saying anything if all you want is man-meat and they just want your meat? Makes me want to be a vegetarian.”

 

Come up with something else. This shows the comfort friends have by insulting each other, but it’s still not top-notch writing.

 

P15

“Laine! Stop chatting and get to work!” Mr. Newton yelled at me from the back kitchen.

 

You don’t need “at me” or “kitchen” or you could keep kitchen and get rid of “back.” He says her name so we know it’s at Vanessa.

 

P15 Revision: “Laine! Stop chatting and get to work!” Mr. Newton yelled from the back.

 

P16

“I’m taking her order!” I lied, turning my head back to Mae.

 

You don’t need to tell us you lied. Your audience is perceptive enough to know that because they haven’t heard Vanessa take Mae’s order, that this is a cover-up. Cut everything after the quotes.

 

P16 Revision: “I’m taking her order!”

 

A few considerations though. Would Vanessa yell at her boss? Or is she the type to keep frustrations inside and acquiesce to whatever authority figure is closest? She doesn’t have to be, but you want to keep personality consistent in the beginning. Real people have contradictions in them but if we find constant contradictions, we wonder if you really had a plan or prototype to model her character?

 

Also, here could be a good time to characterize Mr. Newton and Mae more. Mr. Newton probably knows Mae if she comes in regularly to chat with Nessie. How does Mr. Newton feel about her? Is he creepy towards her because she’s a sweet young thing and he’s lonely? Depending on your audience, you don’t have to be overt about his creepiness. It can be implied through friendliness just to Mae or other pretty lasses and a general unease felt by the girls. Or Mr. Newton could show a business side by being friendly to her. He’s in charge so surely he wants customers returning so he’d be polite as he tries to pull Vanessa away from the conversation.  Mae could in turn show personality by being receptive to or repulsed by or expectant of this attention. If she gets it all the time and it’s not big deal, we know she expects it and that she really is a good-looking girl. If she likes the attention of an older man, plus her need to constantly have boys drooling over her, we can guess she might have daddy issues. If she’s repulsed by it, then we know she’s well-adjusted but it can give some comedy and wit to her character. Depending on what you do, you might have to change P15 too.

 

P17 S1

“You won’t be my third wheel.

 

Even if you keep “third wheel” in above, it’s long forgotten now. It’s not colorful enough language to be remembered for more than a few lines so Mr. Newton’s interruption makes us forget about it. Cut it out from here.

 

S2

There are some bands playing there.

 

If you accept the earlier recommendation, then this is repetitive. But you can delve further into it. What kind of bands? Would Vanessa like them? How does Mae perceive Vanessa’s taste in music?

 

Mae is trying to coax Vanessa into going here. First she’s likely to use something that would tempt Mae, e.g. boys, free Jell-O shots, dancing, whatever you think would be Mae’s reason to go out. Then she might try thinking it over from Vanessa’s point of view.

 

S3

You can go to listen to music.

 

Bland. Boring. Repetitive. Just cut it.

 

S4 – S5

Who knows? Maybe you’ll find your soul-mate there,” she said.

 

No. This is overused in amateur fiction but you never see it in published materials (or maybe I just don’t read enough trash). That’s because this is a god-awful line. You can imply that Vanessa should go for the sweaty men in tight T-shirts, but at 20, someone like Mae isn’t thinking about her soul mate so she’s definitely not thinking about Vanessa’s either.

 

P17 Revision: “There’ll be boys there! Big, beefy boys! And they’re always generous with free drinks if you just flip your hair and lick your lips. Or you could go for the bands! Some weird underground group from Austin. They’ve got an electric violin,” Mae said.

 

P18

“There’s a band playing here, too. Why not just come here?” I asked.

 

P19

“No there’s not. I checked the listing. It’s a stupid depressing poet. Come ON Nessie. Please!” she begged, making a pouty face.

 

P18 and P19 are both unnecessary. P19 has the depressing poet line, which is good, but the rest of it doesn’t fit and you can’t keep crap just to accommodate one line. And why would Vanessa want to come to her place of work on her one night off if she thinks her boss is a psychopath? There’s no logic there.

 

I don’t know That Food Place or whatever it’s supposed to be based off, but how many small “diners,” pubs, clubs, coffee shops actually have poets on listings anyway? Bands, sure, they put up a listing and people might come to see them because listening to music is passive and people can do it while they drink, eat, and talk or it can be active and they can dance or sing along. A poet might get a listing if he’s a hot shot with a red wheelbarrow glazed in with rain water, but mostly those nights have poets stepping up when the music has died because people in the band have to piss.

 

About the conventions of these sentences though, S1 should be “No, there’s not.” Don’t capitalize “ON” for emphasis as it’ll already be emphasized in our heads and it’s not something we need extra emphasis for, and there needs to be a comma between “on” and “Nessie.” 

 

“Making a pouty face” is a wordy way of saying “she pouted.” Another telling descriptor like blushing, sighing, biting nails, rolling eyes, and raising an eyebrow. 

 

I would also add some narration here. An action of Mae’s or Vanessa’s or another glimpse of what’s happening in That Food Place. It’ll add a pause as Vanessa considers the offer. This could be a good time to bring in Mr. Newton and show how he interacts with Mae. It’ll be a little tangent but could be important for Mae and Mr. Newton and he can turn to Vanessa after and scowl telling her to get back to work then smile at Mae and offer her a free soda or something. These are just suggestions, obviously.

 

P20 S1

“Ugh, fine. Now go away before I get fired,” I said.

 

Again, no sound effects.

 

You can break up Vanessa’s answer and the afterthought more effectively if you rearrange the dialogue tag. “‘Fine,’ I said. ‘Now go before I get fired.’” The “I said” adds a pause to her speech. You can increase the pause with narration, but if you do that make it interesting and necessary. Here, I don’t think a long pause is needed. 

 

S2

She smiled and hugged me over the counter.

 

New paragraph.

 

No smiling.

 

The hug over the counter is an interesting visual, especially if Mae is given an aggressive personality early on and then it’s easy to picture her pulling Nessie over the counter for the hug.

 

P21

“Thank you, thank you, thank you! You won’t regret it!” she called as she walked out of the diner. I rolled my eyes after her and then went to wait on some people that just walked in and sat down.

 

Like most beginners, you went too long. Take out this paragraph. There is no way to fix it because the hug is more interesting than anything else you can do in the logic of the story. Aliens could come down or a truck could come screaming through the window and I suppose that could be more interesting than a hug, but the hug is a good end and actually makes sense.

~

Let’s compile the revisions and I guarantee the story will be better. It’ll have better word economy though it’ll be longer, but that’s because the words actually create images and add personality to the names. The only thing I didn’t add to this was plot, which other editors might rail you for but I don’t mind a slow beginning. If this were a short story, then I’d demand some tension immediately, but for a novella (79 pages on Wattpad is probably a novella), the opening scene can just set up the characters, world, and premise that will create tension. 

 

Revision:

 

That Food Place was on the corner of Skenk and Oskaloosa, beneath a preschool. During dead hours, the children’s pitter-patter footsteps gave the illusion of rain. Then one would shriek like someone mid-murder. We ignored it. The pub was locally famous for its breakfast food, but breakfast time had our dead hours. Everyone wanted breakfast for dinner and even our menus read “Brinner.” Plates dribbled with grease from the Breakfast Bonanza (eggs, pancakes,  bacon, sausage, ham, hash brown, toast, and milk or coffee). Dishes were a pain to wash. They were a pain to carry too because grease always splashed onto my uniform and the manager Mr. Newton would make me buy a new one if the spot didn’t wash out. It never did. It was a tradition that he took out thirty bucks each paycheck to replace my uniform. I gave the old ones to him because I wasn’t about to go to Chem class with “That Food Place” plastered across my chest. He used those rags as potholders. When I started here, he used his own shirts which had pit stains and little curly-cue hairs practically woven into the seams.

 

I tapped my pen on the pad which had faint impressions of past orders. I drummed to the rhythm of my favorite song—well, one of them. I had about a thousand favorites. Every great song became my favorite and it’d go on repeat till I needed a break or got nostalgic for a previous favorite. Today’s top hit was Terrorist Love by some total nobodies; tickets cost less than a drink. “You ripped open my chest, pulled out my heart, and replaced it with a ticking bomb.” The lyrics were gruesome! But the bass is really what sold it. It had my phone thumping on the counter while the cord to my earbuds spanned the linoleum canyon.

 

Mr. Newton carried a pitcher of beer to some college kids with fake IDs. I knew them. They were in my Lit class. They were freshmen. Mr. Newton should’ve guessed by how much they giggled when he took their order. They had also ordered chicken wings with our golden garlic sauce. When Mr. Newton walked by, he got tangled in my cord and the earbuds popped out. One landed in the garlic sauce. But I was frantic because he had also tugged my phone from the counter and it had crashed to the floor. It’d taken a month’s paycheck and it had about 10,000 of my favorite songs. I stuck the earbud back in and luckily the phone was still working. But I had forgotten about the garlic and now my ear canal was slimy with it.

 

“Laine!” Mr. Newton raged in a whisper so the wallets wouldn’t hear. “We’ve got customers waiting to be waited on. They’ve been standing at the ‘Please Wait to be Seated’ sign for five minutes! Shut off your Walkman and do your job.”

 

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

 

“And bus table four. Ray’s on break and I sure as hell ain’t owning the place so I can be a bus boy again.” He left to deliver the beer and chicken wings. His thumb, which had a long and yellow nail, had rested on the rim of the plate and touched one of the wings. He sucked it clean of flavor then asked the boys, “What else can I get you, gentleman?”

 

I gnashed my teeth at his back and stuck my earbud back in. But the song was over. I seated the customers.

 

I hated my job, but tuition bills were always coming and I couldn’t ignore them (my credit rating tells the tale of how I tried that with the first one). And at least every Friday, local poets, musicians, and comics provided free entertainment in hopes of striking it big. Mr. Newton occasionally secreted the rumor that a talent agent was in the crowd. It was just his brother planted at a back table with a notepad where he doodled perfectly figured, possibly underage girls. People probably knew it was a sham but they loved performing.

 

Most sucked. Drunks out for a gals’ night would warble “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” into the mic and when they forgot the lyrics they’d sensually lick the microphone while staring at the beefiest frat boy. Last week, an Australian was doing pretty well with the ladies as his accent was a better aphrodisiac than our twenty-dollar oysters or even alcohol and he was ready to seal the deal by strumming “Livin’ on a Prayer” as his groupies belted it out, but he got to the second riff and fumbled his pick. “Hold on, let me start over,” he said and the fans let him have his mulligan. “Hold on, let me start over.” They clapped to give him some confidence. “Hold on.” Eventually they left. The audience gave an award to the worst stinkers: they’d squirt ketchup on them, and then they’d complain that their ten-dollar hamburger was dry. Yeah, most sucked.

 

But some were good. They actually knew the chords of their instruments.

 

I liked to sing, too. Just to the shower head or alone in the car. Maybe one day I’d get a night off and could get up there and give it a try.

 

But when I was 10, I got picked to be Pocahontas in some corny musical about the pilgrims. I got on stage and while stuttering my first line, I caught the eyes of the audience. They were all staring at me through camcorders. I promptly threw up on John Smith.

 

My thumb was searching for a new song on my phone, but nothing meshed with my mood, and I kept scrolling till I was lost in the remnants of high school. Mae grabbed my shoulders from behind and cried, “Earthquake!” then got into a fit of giggles at her own joke. She liked that people stared since she looked good, always. She was my roommate and best friend since third grade when we both had a crush on the same boy. He went for her. She kicked him in the nuts for making me cry.

 

“Hey, Mae.” I smiled at the rhyme.

 

“Nessie, I’ve been standing here for like an hour. This is why you never have rent money. Customers won’t tip airheads unless they show a little something-something.” Mae brushed her wavy blonde hair behind her so her cleavage was out.

 

“It couldn’t be that my psychopath boss steals them.” I rattled the full jar in her face. It was never full at closing time.

 

“Mhmmm.” Mae checked her cracked iPhone for new texts. She had a dozen. She sent winking smileys to each of the boys.

 

“What are you doing here anyway? It’s Thursty Thursday. Shouldn’t you be twerking down at The Shadow Lounge?” I asked.

 

“And leave my best friend here?” she asked with a gasp. She embraced me tenderly. Her pungent perfume was mixed with the stench of pregaming.

 

Her hair got caught in my mouth and I spat it out. I shoved her away. “The truth, please,” I said.

 

“Ok, ok. I was about to get ready. But I wanted to ask if you’re working tomorrow.”

 

“I’m off. For once.”

 

“Perfect! Want to come to The Sunset Grill tomorrow night?” she asked.  

 

A toddler knocked his glass of Mt. Dew off the table and it shattered. The bright pool washed the shards through the aisle. The mother alternated between apologizing to Mr. Newton, who was already mopping up the mess, and soothing the munchkin’s wailing. Mr. Newton assured her it was okay, and he really believed it when we found their bill and tacked on the price of the glass and another dollar for profit.

 

“I don’t know, Mae. It’s my only night off and I really just want to sleep or catch up on homework or relax. I don’t even know what’s on TV anymore.”

 

“But I met this guy! Aiden, I think. He works there. Tends bar or something, I don’t know. He said I should check out this band they’ve got playing. They’re supposed to be really loud. Don’t make me go alone!” she pleaded.

 

“I love you, Mae, but I’m not up for another night of your fake, flirty laugh. It’s a miracle the boys don’t go running from it either. You’re bored by their jokes. They’re repulsed by your cackle. Why bother saying anything if all you want is man-meat and they just want your meat? Makes me want to be a vegetarian.”

 

“Laine! Stop chatting and get to work!” Mr. Newton yelled from the back.

 

“I’m taking her order!”

 

“There’ll be boys there! Big, beefy boys. And they’re always generous with free drinks if you just flip your hair and lick your lips,” Mae said and demonstrated for me. “Or you could go for the bands!  There’s some weird underground group from Austin. They’ve got an electric violin.”

 

“Fine,” I said. “Now go before I get fired.”

 

She hugged me over the counter.

 

 

I still have a complaint about this scene. How would you summarize it? I would say it’s two girls talking about going to a club. There are some great stories with boring summaries, but even with my edits, it’s not brilliant. It probably won’t be without a lot of work and passion invested in this scene and I don’t know Mae, Vanessa, or That Food Place so I can’t fake those insights. But don’t forget that you can set a conversation somewhere other than a food place. People often set them in kitchens, restaurants, dorm rooms, and they get boring to read time and time again even if they’re slightly different. To fix this, Vanessa could just be getting off work and it’s pouring out and Mae has come to pick her up. They dart from overhang  to overhang to avoid getting wet. You can characterize them through why they don’t want to be wet too. Mae could be wearing a white shirt and Mae could say “I can’t give everyone on the street  a peek.” Vanessa could say “What do you care? You’re always giving the boys at the clubs a peek.” And Mae could respond, “If they buy me a drink. I’ll give a show, but it’s not free.”

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