“You shouldn’t open with unattributed dialogue.”
The lilting, melodic voice tickled my ear. I looked to my left to see a familiar figure wrapped in flowing fabrics of deep red and iridescent gold. She leaned in close to peer over my shoulder, her face bathed in the flickering light of the computer monitor. Her shimmering ebony curls cascaded around her face and brushed against my cheek.
“It’s disorienting for the reader,” she said, her voice like a whispered love song meant only for me. “They have no idea who’s speaking or where we are.”
I nodded. “You’re probably right.”
She turned from my half-written story to look into my eyes. Her skin was like antique pottery, ancient alabaster that remained glossy smooth. “No, don’t do that. You shouldn’t agree with me. There needs to be conflict. Tension.”
I paused and sighed. “I guess you’re right about that, too. But it’s hard. I just feel like –-”
She put her finger over my lips, cutting off the words. “No, no, no. Don’t tell me.” Her touch was the warm, gentle caress of velvet. “Show me.”
My lips started to purse into a pucker but she removed her hand before the kiss was fully formed. Grinning, she stood and waved her extended finger back and forth — a flirty ‘no-no’ gesture that only made me yearn to rise out of the chair and pull her close in a torrid embrace.
“Give the reader actions and dialogue that reveal your feelings,” she said. “Not bland statements about them.”
“I know, I know: ‘Show, don’t tell.’ I’ve struggled with that one ever since I started writing over ten years ago. Remember my first attempt at a novel? It was filled with page after page of telling. The whole thing was horrible. I wanted the novel to be about a cop who used to –-”
She cleared her throat, a soft percussive sound with a subtle undercurrent of melody. It forced me to stop speaking and focus my attention on her. Her hands were on her hips, the splayed fingers accentuating the succulent curve under her robes.
“A bit early for that, don’t you think?” she said. “We’ve only just started and you’re already drifting off into backstory.”
“You need to establish your characters first. Who are we?” She raised her hands to her side and then gestured towards me. “And especially you. Highlight your main character. You’ve got to let your readers know who to identify with and why.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I do agree with that. Character is vital. I want my MC to be both identifiable and believable. I don’t want him to seem too perfect.”
She laughed; a sound of unbridled joy that reminded me of harps and wind-chimes. I felt myself smile along with her.
“I think you’ve got that ‘not-perfect’ part covered,” she said. “Now how about giving your MC a name? Readers need something tangible to connect with.”
“I suppose,” I said. “But it’s difficult to work that in when you’re using first-person.”
“You’ll figure out a way, Ernie. You don’t have to make it complicated.”
I paused for a moment, busily trying to grasp all she had told me.
“No,” she said, pointing at the monitor. “Not ‘busily’. Limit the adverbs. Come up with a stronger verb.”
I grappled with her words as I stared at the screen.
“Better,” she said. “But…”
I sighed. “But what”
“There’s really nothing going on other than sitting around and talking. That’s not a very dynamic way to begin a story, is it? Having a scene with some action would be a much stronger way to pull your reader in.”
“But it’s only a short piece of flash.”
“It doesn’t matter. There should still be some sort of compelling events that occur. Scenes of people just sitting and talking are dull.”
With a groan, I pushed myself away from the desk. I stood and started pacing, trying to contain my growing frustration. I had to admit to myself that I loved her, but I was getting irritated. It was feeling like a persecution. I almost expected the Spanish Inquisition to come bursting in through the apartment door.
She turned and regarded the door. “Well, now you’re just being silly,” she said. “You’re trying too hard to force things.” She shook her head and looked at me. “And you’re getting a little ‘telly’ about your feelings again, too.”
I stopped, calmed myself, and approached her. “Look, I really appreciate your help, but you don’t have to nit pick everything.”
“‘Nitpick’ is one word,” she said. Her eyes sparkled with faint flickers of light, like luminous minnows darting below the surface of the water. “You’re a talented writer, Ernie. Your story could be great.”
I snorted. “But only if I follow your advice and revise it the way you want?”
“Yes.” She smiled again. “But first, before you revise it, you have to do something that can be almost impossible for many writers to do.”
She winked. “You have to finish it.”
She gave me a kiss on the cheek. Her breath was moist and sultry on my skin, and I was enveloped in a vibrant bouquet of lavender. The fingers of her hand pushed up through the hair on the back of head in an intertwining caress that made me tingle. I closed my eyes and tried to lean into her touch, but it faded and wisped away like tendrils of smoke.
I opened my eyes and she was gone.
As always, her presence had been alluring and inspiring, and her help was invaluable.
But it was also a challenge. She’d given me so many guidelines to remember and I wasn’t certain on how to apply everything.
Maybe I just needed time to let it all soak in. Maybe, eventually, I’d fully understand her and my story would become completely perfect.
Maybe tomorrow it would all come together.
I shut off the computer.
Chris J. Fries is a still-evolving writer-in-process with an affinity for short fiction, hyphenated complex-adjectives, and Oxford commas. An engineer by vocation, a guitarist by avocation, and a writer by aberration, he is in full celebration at this, his first publication.