RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #19 – Say What?

“Hey!” The middle of the pack, size and age wise, from the table full of after work happy hour females grabbed his arm, turned him slightly. “Yeah, you. Austin.” She flipped his name tag with her left index finger, out and ready to stab the shaggy college boy waiter in the chest. “What was that about, giving us the finger, calling us ‘the mean girls’, huh?”

“Whoa…I didn’t give anybody the finger. You wanted more chips, I pointed with the finger I could use, called Dominguez to set you up.”

“Right.” She twisted his wrist enough to see the pen clasped against his ticket book with his index finger. A small, brown, springy, mustachioed man carrying a tray of full chip baskets, stopped, blocked by the scene. Engraved on his name tag, DOMINGUEZ.

“Señor? Señorita? Con permiso?”

Austin backed out of the woman’s grip, bowed slightly. Dominguez passed sideways between them, dropped the first basket of chips at the women’s table.

Her face took on the look of a squeezed beer can before she brushed off his arm in a feeble attempt to erase some leave behind of embarrassment. “Sorry…”

“No problem.”

She dropped her eyes and hurried back to the table. The woman who had been seated next to her waited for her to drop, furrowed her eyebrows, leaned forward so she could see her friend’s face. “Jeannie? What the hell?”

“Nothing. I…Shit. I thought he gave us the finger, said something, you know…Never mind. We need to tip him like we’re half drunk and think he’s cute.”

You need to tip him like you are drunk and think he’s Brad freakin’ Pitt. Jesus, girl, you coulda gotten us all thrown out.”

Dominguez rounded the corner into the waiter staging area, empty chip basket tray tucked under his arm, paused by Austin.

“’Ey, amigo, the mean girls. They are happy now?”


Does everyone see what’s happening here? Noisy probably franchise Mexican restaurant, cocky long haired college boy waiter, table full of after work women in as many sizes as ages? Do you need the decor? Blow by blow, sitting down, history, drink order? I could have had him explain the Doh-meeng- gez/ The Mean Girls, explained the noisy restaurant. Why? A good scene, to me, isn’t about the ambience. People will tell the story. Dump the exposition, get right in the middle of it.

When I first started writing again, call it 2015, I dropped straight into it, whatever the scene was. Right off the bat I got beat up. Where are we? How did we get here? What’s it look like, how does it smell. I went on the scene building quest. I learned that you can dial it up or down, depending on if you think the scene needs it. And if you’re good you can condense a few big sensory things and get on with the story. And if it’s a re-visit, something happening where we’ve been before, (or is generically ubiquitous) just go on in and make yourself at home.  The Hundred Acre Wood is not about the Hundred Acre Wood, you know? We go there and magic happens, we don’t get a thesis on deciduous tree bark.

I noticed in my last story upload that the location and characters were condensed, but it seemed like everyone knew where we were. Saw the people, got the story. I mention that because after several books lately I’m off that big scene building thing. I studied and even the best dystopias, like Vonnegut, are sketched. In a good author’s work people emerge quickly. MacDonald is the master of condensed appearance and behavior if one wants to give out a character’s polaroid. A page and a half of the English countryside, or Los Angeles or New Mexico or the Rocky Mountains or Egypt. Why? “Some people like that.” Good for them. Some people like adverbs and dialog tags and I’m not much for those, either. The point is, write for yourself or you’ll derail yourself. Next time, a funny story about Egypt and the little magic trick of a few foreign language words.


In 1970 Elmore Leonard’s agent called him. The conversation went something like this –

“You read The Friends of Eddie Coyle yet?”


“You need to.”

That goes for all of us who would write in the less flowery American Noir style. A style which I feel needn’t be limited to crime novels.

Back to the drawing board.


Published by

Phil Huston


7 thoughts on “RANDOM NVDT – Writerly Concerns #19 – Say What?”

  1. > The Friends of Eddie Coyle

    Found the first few chapters on Google books. The first 1500 words is too much talk about buyin’ some guns. About the first 500 were enough. Blah, blah about extra knuckles. Second chapter 1500 words of dialog, like Gilmore Grrls Go Gangsta. But I get the trim scenery, the cut to action, the fact that it all about the characters with just salt’n’pepper for setting. I get that and agree.
    Straight into the story, like a Bond film, bum-biddle-a-dah, bum, bum, bum, bum-biddle-a-dah, dah, dah, dah. Bahdum-BAHDAH-dah-dah-dum.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. People from Lehane to Leonard to Parker call this the book that changed everything. No good guys, no bad guys. Leonards said it made The Maltese Falcon read like Nancy Drew. And you have to read it all to get the grimy depth, the whole picture of these people told so well. Many have adopted the style if not the “odor” of the book. I come back the EL’s The Switch which is this sort of stroytelling with an O’Henry twist and humor. But the whole can the BS, get out of their way permeates a number of 70s onward authors. The same ol same ol and MOR types won’t get it. It’ll be setup after setup. But I went back through and went with my original thoughts on some recent ups. Bobby B is nothing but talk and action and both together. A reread of Eddie and some JD Mac will teach you more about setting and descriptive condensation than any editor or professor. We have to do it ourselves, that carving.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t keep a scene clear in my mind if there’s too much extraneous stuff. The which finger what size thing. Like you say, pare it down to the essentials. I want the nitty gritty. I’m in reading heaven this weekend with The Scarlet Ruse and Cinnamon Skin, by MacDonald. No drivel there!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sheesh I have read a lot of that lately. I even read a very late JD Mac Barrier Island that was chock full of characters who didn’t need names and sub plots that went philosophical, all things he usually left unsaid. But he played with form until he was gone, so I had to admire that, but it;s the only JDM i leafed through looking for something to happen.


      1. I have never read that one. I’d thought i’d read everything he wrote, but no. Must find a copy now.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Library. I understand he wrote a couple on this theme. Hopefully without naming lawyers who show up for a couple of lines. He’s the king of who they are in six words.

        Liked by 1 person

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