John, Jane and Some Lipstick

A lipstick mark brings a lot of trouble and many unanswered questions.

Image Credit: 
Public Domain

Don’t interrupt, I need to get this all out in one go, there’ll be time for questions afterwards.

I don’t even know where to start. I guess I should be begin at the beginning. That seems appropriate. Except you don’t start stories at the beginning. If you did, every story ever told would start with someone being born, then you’d have an endless drivel of them going through school, puberty, teenage years, all of their firsts. I digress, you never start at the beginning, nobody cares how it all started, they care about where it’s going. You should start in the middle of something.

So, I’ll cut out all the crap about how John and Jane met and how they started dated, fell in love and moved in together. All you need to know is that they’re dating. And they’re having an argument. It’s a doozey of an argument, too. John’s come home late with lipstick on his collar and Jane’s noticed. He says that nothing happened but she doesn’t believe him. Who would? Lipstick doesn’t magically appear on clothes, does it?

For those who answered yes, I pity your significant others. Anyway, we’ve got a bit of drama. They’re fighting diametrically opposed corners. He says he’s been faithful, she says that he hasn’t. Well, he says that he can prove it. He can prove to her where he was and that there wasn’t a woman there. Naturally, she’s a bit suspicious about that. Most people don’t have proof of where they go and who wasn’t there unless they’re doing something they shouldn’t be and need to lie about it. She decides to go along with it, though.

I said no interruptions. I’m getting to my point.

Where was I? So, we’ve got a bit of tension going on and we’re moving toward a resolution—either positive or negative. He, John, starts pulling out all these receipts from different food orders throughout the night. He ordered something at 5pm, 7pm and 9pm. All different orders and only enough for one person each time. He was working late, he says, finishing off some report that was due in the morning. The receipts were all delivered to his work address. So he’d managed to prove where he was but not who was there. He says that he can prove that too, he was with Gavin—they had to work on the report together. Gavin’s a friend of both John and Jane, so he wouldn’t cover for him if he was off cheating. John tells Jane to give Gavin a ring to see what he says.

She chooses not to. It doesn’t matter what Gavin has to say, she says, there’s still lipstick on his shirt. That doesn’t happen if there wasn’t a woman involved. It wasn’t there in the morning when he left, Jane ironed his shirt for him and she would have noticed. John is flummoxed. He takes the shirt off to have a look, he can’t see the collar with it on. He looks at it and he can’t understand how it’s there. It’s not until he looks at the little tag inside the shirt that he notices something’s not right. It’s a brand of shirt that he’s never bought before. He only buys his shirts from one place, not where this one has come from. He looks over the shirt to find some other clues and stops at the cuff. An embroidered golden G. John shows Jane and says that the shirt must be Gavin’s, they swapped shirts in the night. They laugh together, Jane apologises for accusing John of something some heinous, and they move on. A couple of years later they end up getting married, they have a couple of kids, and grow old together. The end.

And that, class, is how you tell a story. Tension, a problem to solve, a resolution. Simple. Any questions? Lots, good. David?

That was a terrible story. Why did they swap shirts? Why was Jane not suspicious by the fact that they swapped shirts? You can’t just drop in that they did that to solve all the problems in the story. Shouldn’t you have established and foreshadowed something about that? The easiest option would be that Gavin and John are having an affair, that’s why they were working late together and they put the wrong shirts on after their activities. But, if that’s right, you should have hinted at that all the way through so you get the pay-off of the reveal at the end. That was probably one of the worst stories I’ve ever heard. And, you didn’t make any connection with the characters and the audience. I didn’t care if Jane and John, which are terrible names, stayed together in the end. I didn’t care about them at all. Why would you tell such a bad story? How did you get this job?

Get out.

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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