The cure for headaches / Never trust a skinny chef

The cure for headaches

Divorced Mrs Donovan enjoys wearing shapeless Afghans and oversized sunglasses in the posh high-street café. This is to appear interesting to the striking blond waiter that works Tuesdays. She considers this ‘living vicariously’ and fancies her thrill-seeking behaviour to make up for her youth misspent alone in the university library.

It is not in an attempt to woo the waiter with the freckled forearms, but in caffeine-deprived desperation for a decent flat white. Large-sized and hot. But not too many instructions for the endearing, brain-cell deficient waiter, of whose other contrived customers’ orders have claimed his concentration.

Fifteen minutes is far too long to wait for the miracle elixir to the withdrawal pounding behind her drooping lids. With the competition from Table 5’s ultimate combination of perky breasts and a translucent, low-cut halter top, it’s a wonder to be served at all.

Once Mrs Donovan had been considered beautiful. More so by men, than women, yet neither of which she’d realised at the time. Once sleek tresses had become stringy and thin, and her largest ass-et now droopy and goose-skin. Age has now forced her to adopt varying tactics. Her refined skill in attracting the waiter without Table 5’s cake of makeup is admirable, playing the potent trump on his susceptible subconscious by emulating his mother.


Hi Poppy Mae Howard. Thanks for your submission. Lots of good ideas here, and humorous descriptions. I was unsure how the two pieces related, I assume they are meant to be separate. If not, I’d make the connection obvious. You’ve written a successful humorous piece. The comments that follow are suggestions, in a generic way, for you to assimilate ways to write fictional prose stories.

You have your own style. Again, if you’re happy with it, there is little you need to do overall. But if you’d like to change, you might consider these specifics if they make sense to you. For many readers, there may be too many words, often unnecessary or tangentially related words. An “endearing, brain-cell deficient waiter” may be seen as overwriting with modifiers connected more to narrator judgment than Mrs. Donavon’s thoughts. In strongly narrator-dominated presence, this can be the strength of the piece, that is, narrator humor related to attributes of others and societal nonconformity. It relates to the purpose of the piece. What do you want to do for the reader? Tell a story? A story has a beginning, middle, and end. It has drama (conflict, action, and resolution). You don’t have a story here. To do a story you could make Mrs. Donovan try to woo the waiter and fail, for example. As it is, nothing really happens. 

The piece is descriptive, mainly of characters and cooking. So is this meant to be a “character study” (and a humorous one at that)? Note the humor is based on nonconformity, personal appearance, and social misjudgments. It will be pleasing to many readers and is a legitimate purpose for the piece. But there is danger. Consider that humor relying on conformity is based on judgments as to what is nonconformity, what is stereotypical, what is odd, and the judgments, the way your piece is set, assumes author, narrator, and reader feel the same about the descriptions (for effective humor). If you were writing in Mrs. Donovan’s POV, the judgments could become specifically hers, and the reader could accept them not as universal but as part of Mrs. Donovan’s makeup in her unique story world. This deals with humor in fiction . . . how it becomes effective. It is most effective when subtle and character-based, a situation where irony, surprise, and reversal can be managed to full advantage (see Humor and Fiction and How Humor Works in Fiction). So if your purpose is writing humor as you have, you’re doing great and don’t change. But if your purpose is to write fiction that engages, entertains, and enlightens a reader using humor-inciting fiction techniques, then you might look to story and characterization first and use your nice sense of humor as a secondary tool.

Everything said above applies to this next piece. So I’ll focus on some stylistic points you might want to consider to reach a broader audience and avoid turning readers off because the writing is unclear, complicated, illogical, inaccurate, or verbose.

Highlighted in yellow: (1) passive constructions that could be more effective as active constructions and (2) redundant modifiers, . . . adjectives and adverbs that don’t seem to support nouns and verbs, or don’t relate in meaningful ways, or (3) are just excessive.

Never trust a skinny chef

It is important to develop a routine, a consistency, when managing a hospitality business otherwise you can’t have regular customers, because nothing is regular. [Try maybe: Consistency of management attracts regular customers.]  As in life. Bruna heaves the sliding bakery door at 6.30am each morning, although her first regulars arrive closer to 7. It makes little difference to her anyway, as she wakes without fail prior to the incessant ringing [most alarms do this, example of redundancy] of her 4am alarm.

At 7.15am, after the early truck driver rush, the scrawny [is this adjective important to story or characterization, or something the narrator doesn’t approve of?]  sous chef sneaks out from the café directly across the high street, scanning the road (left-right, left-right, left-right), vigilant for both vehicles and witnesses as he buys their bread supplies for the day. Un-obliging chitchat infuriatingly [An adverb that for an instant switches the POV from narrator to the sous chef]  interrupts his street scanning and smoking, the scowl engulfing his mug indefinitely gloomier than the weather. And the chat. The butt of the cigarette still balancing on his downturned mouth, he returns though the polished door, arms laden with loaves to sell at heavily inflated prices to stupid people that don’t know any better.

But at approximately 7.28am, Dave bounds onto the yellowing tiles, his head reminiscent of a full moon, round and beaming, atop an equally pudgy body tucked into a heavily ironed uniform. Dave is the bus driver of the local primary school. He drops in for a quick breakfast en-route to his first stop. Always an apple turnover. “Gets me fruit ‘n fo’ the day,” he always chuckles, before glancing down at his gigantic wart  [difficult imagery] of a belly, ready to explode in a slush of apple turnovers across the front counter glass if provoked. Bruna thinks Dave has a great sense of humour.

She has fancied Dave for almost a year, ever since he first began the school bus run when the wife Judy was diagnosed with breast cancer. She will never get breast cancer, Bruna snorts to herself, gazing down upon her melon-sized boobs, cushioned in that Ahhh! Bra advertised on daytime television. No more poking, prodding, itching or scratching! Satisfaction guaranteed!

However late at night, as her breasts spread themselves freely the width of the otherwise empty queen bed, she reflects that wouldn’t mind Dave poking prodding, itching or scratching them. Then she giggles, the fantasy seducing her to sleep. [Nice line.]

Dave’s apple turnover adoration has resulted in Bruna’s life obsession over their daily perfection. She wakes by her alarm, but rises each morning to commence Dave’s caramelised apple, pastry-coated masterpiece. Geometric sheets of Taiwanese puff pastry are fanatically cut, while the kilo of white sugar, gelatine and lukewarm tap water simmer on the crusty stove just out of customer sight. Once reaching the viscous consistency of cottage cheese, five Granny Smiths hone the gummy syrup’s flavour, before overflowing ladles are plonked onto the caster sugar-coated pastry pockets, still thawing.   [This is an example of overwriting. Too many loosely related words, as in “viscous consistency of cottage cheese,” are difficult to understand.] whilst awaiting their anticipated metamorphosis into golden pockets of sunshine, she multitasks, whipping herself into a sugar-fuelled baking frenzy, as the double cream reaches heights Bruna’s five-two form can only wistfully aspire to. The oven’s searing heat sticks her thighs together with clammy perspiration, resurrecting her own nonna’s culinary sixth sense – the turnovers are ready.

The eventual turnover that is served to Dave is not a turnover at all, but her franticly beating heart, veiled beneath a plump Mediterranean-skinned pastry coating, imperfections hidden beneath glistening granules of cinnamon sugar and intricately piped cream. [Overwriting that may result in difficulty in comprehension for the reader.] An old-fashioned recipe, aging and alone amid the nemesis café’s gluten free orange and almond cake and dairy free raspberry and coconut meringue layer cake. Dave holds Bruna’s tiring heart in his damp palms and one day, as those days always seem to come around, Dave throws Bruna’s turnover on the tiles and smashes it with his thick-soled boots.

That Thursday morning Dave does not smile his way into Bruna’s bakery at 7.28am, or 7.38am, or 7.48am, nor the rest of the week. Bruna threw each untouched batch in the bin, yet still hopeful that perhaps Judy has died and that his absence is but temporary grief. The restrictive regularity of a baker’s life grounded her eccentric emotions, endeavouring to guide Dave back to her adoring doorway, an infant lost in a Sydney supermarket still searching for their mother’s trolley and cool metallic security.

[Tense shift here is awkward.]

The sous began bringing the apprentice to aid in the lumbering of an increased bread order, he more sociable in his youthful enthusiasm for life. He proclaimed the good news of Judy’s chemotherapy recovery, bringing both her and husband Dave’s lives back on track. He quit the bus run; they’re planning to join the growing army of grey nomads on a journey of self-discovery and renewed love for one another around Australia. Learnt from their daily coffee and cake at the café, both on a health kick and rather fond of the gluten free assortment, specialty of the sous chef.

The sous summoning chatty Matt [?] back, he fleetingly asked Bruna is she felt unwell, for her face has greyed to the complexion of a grave [do you mean gravestone?].  The unique smell of burning interrupted her response, their dog-like sensitivity registering the call of cagen [do you mean Cajun?] cuisine. The turnovers had not been turned over and were blackened to the condition of Bruna’s heart. Embarrassed and uncertain, Matt shuffled his way backwards out of the door.

These two sentences illustrate too many words that are disconnected and confusing. The unique smell of burning interrupted her response, their dog-like sensitivity registering the call of cagen cuisine. The turnovers had not been turned over and were blackened to the condition of Bruna’s heart [?]It’s important in any style of writing to be sure the reader easily knows what is going on. Many readers will wonder what you’re saying here. Is it: lack of attention burned the turnovers; Bruna felt bad?

Bruna closed very early that fateful Friday, routine be damned. Cocooning herself in blankets and breasts, she retired to her otherwise empty bed, a bottle of gin lying welcomingly on the adjacent pillow.

Summary: I encourage you to seek as many opinions from as many people you can trust to give honest responses. If they reflect confusion rather than clarity, disinterest rather than engagement, misunderstand of your intent for writing, I would, as one approach, study writing and storytelling to maximize your obvious potential. If they love what you do, work on and continue to find your readers. But if you seek excellence in literary fictional stories, I sense a need for something different:

1. Learn story structures in all forms, classic and contemporary, and then match best story type to your purpose for writing.

2. Learn to write succinctly, at least not verbosely, (1) by choosing only accurate words that support your purpose, and (2) by learning to structure sentences based on a presentation of ideas that are related and create either images, comprehension, or understanding, and/or are related to an overall theme and meaning for the writing, even at the sentence level.

3. Learn effective paragraph structure. 

4. Resist the attempt to copy the style of a favorite writer. Instead, ask how your favorite writers achieve their effects. What principles do they follow? How do they convey meaningful and interesting ideas? Then find your unique skills and create your own effective storytelling. (It takes a long time.)

5. Learn to insert conflict in your storytelling. It is what gives energy and suspense. [See Conflict.]

6. Develop a critical eye for revising your own work. Are you achieving what you want? How do you change your work to be more effective at pleasing a reader?

7. This is sensitive, but essential for every good writer: don’t write to impress the reader of your value as a writer. (Every writer faces the danger of sounding like a wannabe author.) Write for the reader. Write to make readers feel and understand, engage them for enjoyment (usually through well-told story structure and presentation that is effortless to read).

I hope this is useful. All the best for writing career. And thanks again for submitting.  WHC

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