I don’t really have a writing challenge for you, but I definitely have a writing challenge. A different writing challenge. And we will have the other kind again soon, but bear with me.
Or is it bare with me? Bear? Let’s go with bare for this one. You’ll see why in a sec.
I’m like most writers. When I have a story problem, I’m thinking about it all the time.
Not constantly and nonstop, but sporadically and throughout the day. Each morning, I get up before my daughter so I can start getting her breakfast ready before my phone will alarm to tell me to go wake her up. There are also alarms for time to
- brush your teeth and
- get the hell to the car
- We need to be in the car so we’re not late for school and
- shit we’re late for school
(I don’t need four alarms. I’m married, though, so…)
We also have bedtime and bath time things but those are different alarms. The morning ones sound like something urgent is happening, the submarine have to dive or the nuclear bombs are on the way.
We were getting ready to head out for school this morning and while Savvy brushed her teeth in the kitchen, I had to pee so I let her know that I was going to go to the bathroom. I had a big glass of tea and it’s no big deal but if you didn’t tell her when she was a baby, she would come looking for you and cry because she know didn’t know where you were. So I guess I got in the habit of announcing it.
“I’m going to the bathroom I’ll be right back.” Then she doesn’t worry.
So she was brushing teeth and I went into the bathroom. While I was washing my hands it occurred to me that I had on a stretchy T-shirt and it’s been bothering me that we haven’t simply and easily conveyed to an uninformed reader this simple scene I wrote in The Navigators that my critique partner had a problem with. (We’re fine tuning it before it heads out to beta readers.)
A sweaty, naked guy…
– NO, IT’S NOT THAT KIND OF STORY – but, well, he had to tie a t-shirt around his waist to not be , um, on display. Because he was naked.
Nothing untoward here. Keep reading.
Okay, so I had him tie the T-shirt around the waist to cover himself. And living in Florida where short sleeve t-shirts and young people are both fairly common, it didn’t strike me as a big problem to just say somebody threw him a t-shirt and he tied the t-shirt around his waist.
But my CP couldn’t quite see it. And no this wasn’t on April First so it wasn’t an April Fool’s Day prank. And
we don’t want to create spots where the reader becomes un-immersed in your story as they try to figure out what’s going on. We want the reader completely into in the scene
not scratching their collective heads wondering how the hell the guy tied a t-shirt around his waist.
Fair enough. She asked; I explained.
She still didn’t get it.
Well, since the advent of phones with cameras, a picture says a thousand words. And a 30-second video clears up a lot of ambiguity. So I grabbed a t-shirt from the closet and held the sleeves, pulled it around my waist like a backwards apron and tied it in a knot. Simple. No, I wasn’t naked. (We’ll get to that.) Then the guy in the story slid the shirt around to cover himself, like I said earlier.
So I propped up my phone on a shelf and videoed myself doing the t-shirt tying demonstration and sent it to her. See? See how you can tie a t-shirt? (I sent a note first saying it was a demonstration on “t-shirt around the waist tying.” Can’t be too careful with videos these days and you don’t want to freak people out. Why is Dan videoing in his bedroom??? Because that’s where my clothes are. As in, my t-shirts.)
I watched the video and it was a good demonstration, so I sent it over to her. This does two things. She can see what the hell I’m talking about AND see the motions involved so I/we can describe it properly to readers.
I was kinda proud. Technology is great and we’ll see what I wrote is perfectly adequate. I went on about my writing day and waited for the reply.
Which came shortly afterwards. Basically, she thought he held the shirt sideways (like a bath towel) and couldn’t figure out how he got it tied. Or how it stayed.
Okay, that is worthy of clarification – which I didn’t do in the story. Good.
But she didn’t think it worked.
But… I just sent you a video of me doing it. You know it works.
She – I don’t know. It didn’t work for her. Why tie it in front and slide it around? Why not tie it in back and be covered immediately?
This is just a few lines in a story, okay?
And you saw me do it.
So she did a video back. And she had problems tying it like an apron, tying it behind her back. But she also said she couldn’t tie it in front and slide it around.
Even though I did it in a demonstration to show that it worked, I didn’t do a demonstration to show sliding around. That’s fair. AGGRAVATING, but fair. And sliding material on material isn’t as easy as sliding material on skin.
That’s been nagging me, that thought.
I’m a writer. We get like that. You understand.
But there I was, washing my hands in the bathroom this morning as my kid brushed her teeth in the kitchen. And I was wearing a t-shirt. So I thought, hey, you know – I have a moment…
Let’s do it.
Now, when my daughter is done brushing her teeth, we go get in the car for school. And I have an alarm in my phone that tells us when we’re supposed to walk out the door so we’re not late. And I had my phone in my pocket in the bathroom.
So as I yanked off my T-shirt and because he was naked I yanked down my shorts and underwear,
and put the body of the t-shirt over my butt and pulled the sleeves of the T-shirt around to my belly, tied them in a knot, held the two ends of the T-shirt together in a fist and started sliding the T-shirt around to cover my front.
Halfway through, my phone alarmed to tell us it was time to go to school. Around that time, I hear the door beep indicating that somebody has opened it – and my wife usually will get up a little later than us and go get the newspaper. So I get dressed and open the door and see my wife coming in from outside as expected – except she has a very strange look on her face.
“Where is Savvy?” she asks. We run into the kitchen, our daughter is not there.
The backpack is gone. We look around outside; we don’t see her. My wife starts calling for her and our daughter answers from inside the garage. Inside the car where she went with her backpack when the alarm went off from the bathroom. Like she’s supposed to. My wife thought the door opening was me, I thought the door opening was my wife, and neither of us knew that it was our daughter who somehow managed to get past both of us and get outside and get in the car.
After a brief laugh and sigh of relief, we figured out that all was well. I got in the car and took the kid to school.
But most importantly, the test worked. You can tie a T-shirt or on your naked torso, hold the knot, and slide it around to cover yourself! But you can also just tie it like an apron because word count matters. It’s not easy, but it can be done – so that’s what I wrote in the story.
Now I just need an easy way to communicate that to readers without confusing them.
So, help me out.
Here’s the passage. DOES IT WORK? (Roger is the naked guy)
Roger paused, beaten. “Okay, you’re right. We broke protocols. All of us.” He gestured to the radio. “What do I tell them at Shands hospital?”
“Nothing.” Barry bit at his fingernail. “Wave them off. And damnit, cover up.” He pulled off his T-shirt and flung it in Roger’s direction.
Laying down the big radio, Roger grabbed the shirt and tied the sleeves in a knot behind his back. It covered his front but left his butt exposed like Tarzan. He held out his arms to Barry. “There. Happy?”
“Sure. How about we eclipse that fucking moon now?”
That freaking passage took about two days so far. That’s writing, folks. It’ll drive ya nuts.
But if it works, it’s worth it. So…