Writing Wrongs

April 06, 2007

Here’s the deal. Allie posted this challenge a few days back on her blog. Show, don’t tell, the bane of the writer’s existence, until meeting up with Donald Maass. He extols the virtues of knowing when to tell, not show. Oh, the dilemma! Which is it?

From an interview with Andrea Campbell (emphasis mine):

As I said earlier, great storytelling is the key to success as a novelist. But what, specifically and technically, does "great storytelling" mean? It is things like powerful inner conflict, layered plotting, tension on every page, knowing the proper technique, timing and the power of telling-not-showing (yes, you read that right), antagonist and theme development, and more.

Be that as it may, the prompt Allie posted intrigued me:

Sherry was sick and tired of her boss’s advances, and she told him as much one night after work.

Mainly because it, in and of itself, isn’t all that intriguing, although it might be the premise of a Harlequin Presents (assuming we could work a secret baby in there somehow).

If you find reading writing exercises tedious, you can stop here. Because that’s what this is. An exercise. Contains mild “adult” language.

~ * ~

The first time it happened, Sherry laughed it off as some lingering post-adolescent clumsiness. The second time, the whoops-brush-almost-grope caught her attention, but the kitchen was small.

But when the So Brand New He Squeaked junior manager made pathetic grab for her ass while she was pouring coffee, Sherry had it.

Her eyes ached. If she couldn’t recreate the bug one of their clients was experiencing, she sure as hell couldn’t fix it. And now, 100% peaberry kona flooded the kitchen counter and dripped onto the linoleum tile.

Her special 100% peaberry kona.


And really, what sort of cop and feel was that? Of course, fancy business programs probably stopped offering Ass Grabbing 101 sometime back in the 70s. Sherry set her coffee mug down--the one that read Will Code for Food--and turned from the heartbreakingly expensive mess on the counter.

“So,” Junior said. “The conference room is free.”

Duh. It was after seven o’clock at night. Of course it was free.

“Thought I could help you with the Anderson issue.”

Sure. Because Junior here knew all about their legacy systems and the spaghetti code behind them.

“Or maybe we could just take a break,” he added.

Was that what the kids were calling it these days? God, Sherry thought, wasn’t growing older supposed to stop this sort of thing? Think, Sherry, think. Everyone--even hotshot so brand new they squeaked managers--had a weak spot.

Human Resources? She’d heard the rumors, the grumbling of what this kid cost them in head hunter finder’s fees. Apparently, he could schmooze the most technophobe of clients and possessed enough technical know-how to knock the chip off of any IT department’s shoulder.

Too bad he had the social skills of a Neanderthal.

So, HR could sit him in a room and show him the WebEx of Sexual Harassment Hurts Us All. Again. Like that would help.

Maybe she could whisper something in Roger’s ear. They were both veterans from the company’s start-up era. But taking Bascomb Software public consumed Roger’s days, and most of his nights. He looked close to a breakdown, or a coronary--or both.

Her mind went fleetingly--again--to Roger. So her own weak spot looked like an impenetrable firewall rather than the system vulnerability it was.

She surveyed Junior, who stood, arms crossed over his chest, fingers drumming a gym-sculpted bicep. At least they weren’t grabbing her ass. But on the left ring finger was, by Sherry’s calculation, a very spendy wedding band.

Houston, we have a weak spot.

“Great idea,” she said. “I’ll call your wife, let her know you’re working late.”

“You … what?”

“I’m sure she’d like to know what you’re doing.”

His Adam apple bobbed, once, twice. Third time, she knew. No pre-nup. Whether it was true love or colossal stupidity, Sherry didn’t care.

“She won’t believe you.” His voice cracked on believe, so the word stretched into three syllables.

“She doesn’t have to.” That was the beauty part of all this.

Sherry expected a protest, anger, something, but Mr. So New He Squeaked fell silent, stared at her like no one had told him the rules to this game. She blamed fraternities for that. And Junior here still wore frat and boy like badges of honor.

Maybe when things calmed down, she’d shoot Roger an email, suggest a little one-on-one mentoring. But until then?

“Anyone tell you the rules for working late?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“If it’s after seven, I break out the good stuff, but I get the first cup.” Which was now all over the counter and floor. Sherry threw some paper towels at the linoleum and poured a fresh cup.

“Second rule.” She rummaged through the cupboard and found a clean--or mostly so--mug. “No Styrofoam. And none of that non-dairy or flavored crap. You use real half and half and real sugar. Got it?”

His head bobbed.

Sherry sighed. Social skills of a Neanderthal. She resisted the urge to say, “Good boy,” and pat his head. He was, after all, her boss.

“I’ll send you an update on the bug fix for Anderson before I leave tonight.” Okay, so she tossed him a bone instead.

She reached the corner for her cubical, but movement in the kitchen caught her eye. Sherry backtracked, silently.

There, Mr. So New He Squeaked crouched, a coffee-soaked paper towel in his hand.

She held still, watched, and only sneaked away when he cleaned up the last of the mess.

Charity Tahmaseb wrote at 1:02 p.m.