Today’s guest post features once again the delightful Darrelyn Saloom. (You can read her first guest post here, “The Song of Writing.”)
I’m sure you’ve all experienced some variation of the story below,
which illustrates a huge lesson that some writers never learn—how to
leave out all the unnecessary details! (Below: a picture of Darrelyn
and her husband.)
My first stay-on-premise lesson was in a freshman creative writing class, Wendall Mayo handed back my long short story and told me he liked it—all five of them!
Hmmm? I expected a Pulitzer Prize, not this. Okay, so maybe I wandered a bit here—oh, yes—and there. But I thought it would explain this, prepare the reader for that. So, maybe he had a point. But it’s a great story! I thought. But no epiphany.
Until Mardi Gras. My husband, Danny, and I stood in a noisy, inebriated crowd to watch the parade. A tacky float towered above us as we jumped and bumped and fought for beads. We were waiting for the next float when a woman (we barely knew) huddled next to us and started talking. She told us she almost missed her flight to get here. And even with all the noise, we grinned and bent towards her to listen to her story.
On the way to the airport she had stopped for coffee. She ran into an old friend, who was married to her ex-husband’s cousin. Oh, oh, oh, she almost forgot that the cousin had been taking a break from posting pictures of her lost dog, Muffin, that often ran away, but never for three days! … I mean, she had a dog once that …
Here came the next float, but the woman kept talking. She was not even to the airport yet. She had segued from Muffin the dog to her own dog to her ex-husband’s cousin’s marital history! Danny and I stuck up our arms to show her we wanted to scatter like children to catch beads. But she kept talking. I could hear a band in the distance—The Northside High School Band—my favorite! But she kept talking and talking and talking.
My husband’s grin slipped away. And then his eyes began to glaze. By the time his chin pointed skyward, I knew she had lost him. But now a relative had died! Tears pooled in her eyes! So I made Ooh sounds to confirm the relative’s sudden death was terrible. A tragedy! But what happened to the almost-missed-my-flight story?
The Northside High School Band marched closer. I started to dance a little, not knowing if this was appropriate (but not really caring at that point.) The band stopped about a block away to twirl batons, gyrate, and shake. These kids could really dance, and I longed to spin around to watch them. But the woman’s swollen tears had spilled to her cheeks!
Which Danny never saw because he continued to stare skyward. And then he began to roll his head. He rolled and rolled until he (brilliantly) swung his body on the last roll, broke the huddle, and slinked away. And left me with the talking (now crying) woman.
When the marching band finally parked in front of us, I threw my hands to my ears, mouthed that I could no longer hear her, and whirled and wiggled and bopped away. The whole time thinking of Wendall Mayo’s lesson on premise, a lesson now pounded into me with every glorious bass drum beat.
Never heard how the woman raced across the airport in the nick of time to catch her flight. And, by the time I abandoned her on the crowded street, I really didn’t care. Her storytelling bored and confused me. All I wanted to do was to flee.
So if you ever find yourself telling a story. And the listeners’ eyes start to glaze, or their heads start to roll, or (heaven forbid) they flee. Chances are pretty good you’ve gone off your premise. So next time—for story’s sake—stay on premise, PLEASE!