Stay on Premise, PLEASE!

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!

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0 thoughts on “Stay on Premise, PLEASE!

  1. Christopher L Frugé

    People can often tell when someone is a good listener. Unfortunately I’m one of those people, and this kind of thing happens to me all the time~ Its good to know I’m not alone. And I don’t feel as bad now about fleeing the scene. Thanks Darrelyn~

  2. Cindy

    Well it’s very apparent what an excellent writer Darrelyn is, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve known her since middle school!
    Darrelyn, keep up the good work!
    Cindy Bullion

  3. Jessica Fern

    Great story! I felt like I was with you at the parade getting frustrated by the woman’s rambling. I realize now that I probably do that regularly in my story telling. I will remember this lesson and try to stay on premise! Thank You.

  4. katy richard

    Hilarious, Darrelyn! Loved it when Danny so skillfully twirled outta there! I think we’ve all told and been told stories just like this one. I’ve GOT to try and remember this when I start to drone on and on…..thanks for the laugh and the lesson!


  5. Rob Charron

    Hi 😉
    Excellent blog. The way you reinforced your point with the Mardi Gras story was terrific. I definitely will remember this when I am writing. It’s akin to the Star Wars Red Leader saying "Stay on target. Stay on target."
    Love From Canada

  6. Mark

    "Staying on Premise" is an interesting premise for a piece on Premise.
    Love the way you illustrated the effects of a writer wandering off premise — that the readers will wander off the premises, too! Subtly brilliant.

  7. Louis Gary

    Great story Darrelyn and what a wonderful picture of you and Danny!
    I felt like I was at that parade listening to the story and probably would have reacted with Danny!! I could go on but would probably not stay on premise! Danny’s actions remind me of my wife in a good way!
    Well done!!

  8. Dr. Castle

    Too good! It reminds me of this book I read in the seventh grade in my science class. I sat next to this pretty girl and… haha.

    This is a great way to remember to stay on premise; I’ll be sure and show it to my students. "A tragedy!"–brilliant!

  9. Deirdre Gogarty

    Wonderful piece! Funny and to-the-point. Which is exactly the point! This is why I’m writing my memoir with this lady, she is a great mentor.

  10. Mary

    This was hilarious! I have fallen asleep reading books that wandered too much and while listening to that type of storyteller. Love this piece! A great lesson for writers!

  11. Carolyn Patin-Jones

    Another delightful story from Darrelyn. She had me chuckling all through the story. I am looking forward to reading other tales from Darrelyn.

  12. Kellyann Zuzulo

    Loved this real-life tale! And so true! It’s an illustration of how writers need to think about their own writing. Tell the story to yourself and think, "Would this this interest me, if I were listening to it?" And if not, then, yes, you must flee and come back with a better approach. Kudos, Darrelyn!

  13. Jane Bretl

    What a great story! I love how the lesson was "pounded into (you) with every glorious drum beat". So vivid. It is valuable and memorable tale, both for writing and for life. In person, we hope to catch the listener’s non-verbal cues; as a writer, we have to imagine that they will not drop the book and flee… best to write with that in mind.
    Thanks for the lesson and the laugh!