Don’t Say Anything

Photo by Pavan Trikutam on Unsplash

A story told only through dialogue.


“No! Did she really say that?”

“Yes. I couldn’t believe it. Weird thing is, he didn’t even flinch.”

“Maybe someone’s told him before.”

“But it’s not true.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I’ve kissed him.”

“No! You kept that one quiet.”

“Can you blame me?”

“No. How’s the creative writing course?”

“Yeah. It’s good. We’re learning all these rules.”

“Like what?”

“Like, don’t begin a story with dialogue.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t actually know.”

“So are you writing a novel?”

“Why does everyone assume I’m writing a novel? You’re doing Stained Glass. I don’t ask when you’re making a sheet for St. Paul’s.”

“You’ll get a wonky reindeer for the tree. If you’re lucky.”

“I didn’t bother putting mine up last Christmas.”

“Oh, yes. I remember. How is Paul?”

“Don’t know, don’t care. As long as his cheques come in every month, I don’t ask questions.”

“It’s a shame. I always thought of you as the perfect couple. Barbie and Ken. David and Victoria. Nancy and-”

“Sid.”

“Anyway. If you’re not writing a novel, what are you doing?”

“Just learning, really. Techniques. Hints and tips. Rules.”

“Doesn’t sound very Virginia Woolf. Tell me another.”

“Don’t use cliché.”

“Ok, I can agree with that. You want your words to stand out from the crowd. What are the other people like?”

“They’re good! Jane Lansdown is there. Hadn’t seen her for twenty years. Remember her? My roommate in halls.”

“Oh my God, yes! She had that party and Jason swallowed a goldfish. What’s she doing in Hampshire?”

“Same as me. Living.”

“Has she still got all that blonde hair? Down to the waist. I always wanted to chop off her ponytail with a great pair of shears.”

“No. She’s got a mid-brown pixie cut. Though, now you’ve said that, perhaps it wasn’t voluntary. But she’s not changed really. Except the four kids. She still talks a lot.”

“Always had her down as a breeder. But you were saying. Rules.”

“Show don’t tell.”

“What does that mean?”

“Instead of saying, ‘John felt like vomiting’ you say something like, ‘John could suddenly taste the eggs he’d eaten for breakfast.’ But not ‘suddenly’. You’re not supposed to use adverbs.”

“I think I prefer the telling.”

“Remember that time we went to Southport Fair and you threw up a bit on the bottom of that man’s trousers?”

“Yes! Can’t believe he didn’t notice.”

“I sometimes wish we could go back to those days. Thirteen. Day girls at St. Hilda’s. Sheltered from the world.”

“God, no. I remember being hungry all the time. And there was never anything to do on Sundays.”

“I’d forgotten about the eating disorder. You fainted when we went to see the Stone Roses. I prefer you a bit squidgy around the edges.”

“Gee, thanks. ‘O, Squidgy!’”

“When she was telling him how marvellous she was! I preferred Charles and Camilla’s tape. They were more earthy, less cringeworthy. Though I could live without the tampon thing.”

“Thanks for reminding me of that. Give me another rule. And what’s wrong with adverbs?”

“Don’t know. They’re too describey? Let me think. Everyone bangs on about point of view. You should inhabit one character and stay there. It’s all about that person’s thoughts. So you can’t say, ‘Paul ate the cabbage with a foolish look on his face.’ Because he can’t see himself. And he thinks he’s great.”

“But you could think that, right? About him?”

“Absolutely. See: you’re already half way to winning the Booker. You should take it up yourself. Bet you’ve some stories to tell.”

“Haven’t we all?”

“Some more than others.”

“Aren’t you writing anything at all?”

“Yes. We have to do a kind of assignment each week. And I’ve been entering flash fiction competitions. And submitting stuff to sites.”

“What’s flash fiction?”

“It’s when you write a short story. But it’s really tiny.”

“That sounds a bit more wonky reindeer. Have you won anything?”

“No.”

“So what are the stories about.”

“It can be anything, really. Sometimes there’s a theme. Like a colour. Or a season. And sometimes they say what they won’t usually publish. Like writing about the act of writing itself. That’s really boring, apparently.”

“Yes, I can imagine. What else?”

“Well, yesterday’s class was about using all the senses. Making things come alive. Not, ‘She could see the guilt in his eyes.’ But, ‘He wouldn’t quite meet her gaze. As he turned away, she caught a whiff of pheromones, rancid and sweet. Not his. Or hers.’”

“Crikey. How are you supposed to be creative if you have all these rules?”

“Well, they’re not set in stone. The cliché one, for example. Sometimes you can use it to express boredom. Or to play with expectations. ‘Mad, bad, and dangerous not to know.’”

“Sounds like your cousin Jim.”

“I remember you got to know him rather too well once at Glastonbury.”

“Rubbish! That was all rumour. Well, actually, he was quite a surprise. Much more tender than I expected. Cried when he came.”

“He didn’t!”

“Of course not.”

“He got married last year, Jim. In New Zealand. They did it while sky diving. Though I might have made that bit up.”

“They all settle down in the end.”

“Except you.”

“Yes. Except me. Maybe there’s hope for me yet?”

“There’s always hope. But you have to not want what you cannot have.”

“That’s a bit profound. For a Monday.”

“Anyway. There’s this thing called a narrative arc. Or is it a character arc? You have to have it in your story. A beginning, middle and end, and some kind of change. In someone’s — even the reader’s — understanding. A twist, or a development in character.”

“So, nothing like real life at all, then?”

“No.”

“Jesus, it’s four already. I have to go. Suttons have an offer today on Guerlain. It was lovely to catch up.”

“I know it was you. The smell on Paul.”

“He told you?”

“Not in so many words. But you did, just now.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t say anything.”


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