Joan Didion and Elmore Leonard encourage us to leave room in our writing for the reader’s imagination. Don’t overdress the blank form with smothering words.

Less is more.

I offer you “Showtime at the Stella.” Another character sketch for Kelsey Graf.

What I’m Reading

I read a book of essays by Joan Didion: Let Me Tell You What I Mean. The essays span years from 1968 to 2000. This is a first for me. I have never read Didion till now. For that reason I skipped the foreword. I prefer to read the author first, then later learn more about the author from an introduction or foreword.

Didion writes as she says she does. With clarity, strength, directness. I appreciate that. Reading her offers a sense of connection. I hear her, I understand what she is saying,

She concludes one essay about the Hearst castle in California by saying that, at least for some, the castle should best be viewed from a distance, rather than taking a tour of the site. “Make a place available to the eyes, and in certain ways it is no longer available to the imagination.”

True of writing, yes? When an author over-describes a scene or a character, the reader’s imagination will dry up. I’ve made reference to Elmore Leonard’s rules for writing in earlier posts. Rule #10: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” And #8: “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.”

I leave you with that: less is more. Leave room for the reader’s imagination.

What I’m Writing

I was thinking this week about the many nights my wife and I attended theater and dance performances at the Stella Adler Theater in the heart of Hollywood. I placed one of my characters, Kelsey Graf, in that context, to study her reactions and to bring back memories for myself. Enjoy.

Showtime at the Stella

Maggie led Kelsey at a quick pace around the corner from the open parking lot on Highland Blvd. onto Hollywood Blvd. People waiting to cross the chaotic intersection filled the sidewalk. Tourists looking futilely for a glimpse of a star. Actors dressed as cartoon and film characters looking for tips from photo ops. Hordes of wannabes, derelicts, homeless, starving artists, looking to cross the street, nowhere to go. The stuff of Hollywood. 

Maggie dodged a guy in a porkpie hat playing a saxophone. She grabbed Kelsey’s hand. “In here.” They ducked inside a lobby under a marquee: tonite only…SHE.

The two ignored the elevator and climbed a single flight of stairs. In a tiny lobby Kelsey spied an enormous black and white poster of Joan Crawford. They climbed a small set of stairs and Maggie pulled a door open. Kelsey found herself in a dimly lit black box theater. The first thought that hit her: magic lives here.

Maggie said, “Sit anywhere. Here’s your ticket. It’s comped. I have to change and warm up.” She squeezed Kelsey’s arm. “Finally…you get to see me dance.”

Kelsey touched her hand to Maggie’s, said, “Merde!” Maggie smiled and headed for the dressing room. Kelsey stared after Maggie. I’m so lucky. She picked a seat mid row near the back. She liked being a few rows back, where she could take in the entire stage at a glance.

As Maggie walked across the stage, she called out to a woman headed for the sound booth. “Maggie’s with me, Carly.” 

“Thanks Maggie. Welcome, Kelsey.”

Kelsey waved as Carly disappeared into the closet-sized sound booth at the rear of the theater. 

Kelsey breathed deeply. She leaned her head back on her seat, closed her eyes, tried to imagine what actors had performed here, what characters from Hollywood’s black and white era had roamed this building. The Stella Adler Theater. An oasis of fine theater performance tucked away in the desert sands of a mediocre Hollywood.

A voice called out. “On stage for warmups!”

From behind the stage over a dozen dancers appeared. They scattered around the stage and up into the aisles and rows. Kelsey saw Maggie down in a corner of the stage. The director led them through a series of stretches and warmup exercises.

Voices popped up. 

“I forgot my container of chocolate soy milk tonight.”

“Traffic sucked.”

“Anyone catch SNL last weekend?”

“I’ve still got glitter all over my tights.”

Then, from the PA, Carly’s voice: “Ten minutes till doors open.”

Several voices replied. “Thank you, ten minutes.”

The dancers dashed back to the dressing room to finish their makeup.

The soundtrack from the film Amélie jumped out of the speaker system. 

Lights flashed on and off in sequence around the stage as Carly ran her check list. The music dropped off to a soft “Autumn Leaves” from Eva Cassidy. The house lights came up.

“Two minutes to open.”

“Thank you, two minutes,” Kelsey whispered.


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