Making the Bed Fit the Story


By Kay Springsteen

It’s two a.m. The cat has just barfed in the bed, or your baby, who fell asleep in bed with you last night, developed a leaky diaper. It’s not a total emergency, right? After all, you have more sheets and blankets in the linen closet. Now that autumn is arriving in the northern hemisphere, though, you’d better hope you don’t have one of those dryer lint blankets.

So you open the closet and discover…that the laundry you thought could be put off until the weekend…should have been done yesterday. Your linen closet is sorely in need of stocking. On the shelves, you see a couple of bath towels, an Afghan Grandma Betty crocheted for you, and two fitted sheets. That dryer fluff blanket is looking better and better, isn’t it?

At this point, you can stay awake and write while waiting for that laundry to get done, or perhaps you can sleep on the sofa. Or you can try to make up the bed with what you have. So, you fit one of the sheets over the mattress, and then you place another sheet over that, fitting just the bottom and leaving the top free. It’s not too bad, right? Then you put Grandma Betty’s Afghan on top and crawl between the sheets.

Okay, so the blanket has a few issues. First of all, it’s too short. Second, it’s crocheted pretty loosely with a lot of lacey holes. So your feet are hanging out…or your shoulders are. You’re about to spend the night with cold feet or cold shoulders. And no matter what you cover, it’s not going to stay toasty warm because of the lacey effect. And as you’re lying there, you come to realize that fitted sheet you placed on top isn’t smooth and unwrinkled. It’s bunchy in the wrong places and you feel as though you’re being strangled.

Writing a story is very akin to this disastrous bedtime scenario. If you don’t lay a foundation with some description to show where your characters are and what they’re doing, your readers simply don’t know. Consider the following conversation:

“Here’s your coffee.” she said.

“Thanks.” He accepted the cup and took a sip. “This is great, honey.”

She tasted her own and smiled. “It is, isn’t it? I decided to try something new.” (34 words)

Are you picturing a couple—age-indeterminate—sitting at the morning breakfast table? It could easily be this is what the author intended. But we really don’t know. Of course, in a full-length story, you’re given clues prior to a bit of dialogue such as this, so you may have a better idea of where they are and how they got there. But consider this same scene with the addition of some description:

John waited for Cara in the car, listening to a rock song and tapping his fingers against the steering wheel in time to the music. Glancing around the parking lot, he noted there were no empty parking spaces. The sign above the door to the coffee shop read The Mud Puddle. The building itself sat on the corner of the little strip mall, and was made of brown brick with floor-to-ceiling windows on both exposed sides. Customers came and went while he waited. The traffic on the busy street in front of him raced by. Finally, the door to the coffee shop swung open and Cara emerged. She walked slowly across the black-top toward him while he watched.

Cara pulled the passenger side door open and slid in, her fresh meadow scent blending with the aroma rising from the two cardboard cups of coffee she balanced in her hands.

“Here’s your coffee.” she said.

“Thanks.” He accepted the cup and took a sip. “This is great, honey.”

She tasted her own and smiled. “It is, isn’t it? I decided to try something new.” (192 words)

Now, the scene with a little rearranging and some description but with some of the fluff removed or rearranged:

Because he couldn’t find a parking place, John waited for Cara in the car, tapping his thumbs against the steering wheel in time to the rock song on the radio. A car honked nearby and a harried-appearing young woman raced across the parking lot to climb in the passenger side of a black SUV. A semi flew under the amber traffic light seconds before the light turned red, leaving the smell of diesel fuel in its wake. Finally, the door to the coffee shop swung open and Cara emerged. She took her time sauntering toward him, and he enjoyed the sexy sway of her walk while she did so.

Cara pulled the passenger side door open and slid in, her fresh meadow scent blending with the aroma rising from the two cardboard cups of coffee she balanced in her hands.

“Here’s your coffee.” she said.

“Thanks.” He accepted the cup and took a sip. “This is great, honey.”

She tasted her own and smiled. “It is, isn’t it? I decided to try something new.” (177 words)

Now I could simply say: John waited for Cara in the parking lot of the coffee shop. But that’s taking out a bit too much fluff for my tastes. I like a little description to set the tone as well as the scene. In the last example, the reader is shown the coffee shop has other customers and is located on a busy street. With this knowledge, readers can build the rest of the place in their mind. They do need some direction, but they don’t need an over abundance of description to get in the way of the important parts of the story. With a little description but without the fluff, you have a Baby Bear’s bed scenario: Just right.

Advertisements

6 responses to “Making the Bed Fit the Story

  1. Loved the diesel fuel reference. Very distinctive. Good post!

  2. Great post, Kay!! Love the way you show us how the scene changes with the amount of description. So true.

  3. Great examples of how to set a scene around dialogue.

  4. I’m often guilty of “over” fluffing my stories…thank God I have great editors…I have been learning however to not over do it and not under do it at the same time…LOL! Thank you for sharing a wonderful post and great examples…this is one post we should all keep as a learning tool.

  5. I like fluffy – I think too much so sometimes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s