#FridayFlash: Shy Cowboy

This is another exercise in character study; this time, I’m attempting to portray awkwardness and embarrassment, shyness and nerves. Please feel free to let me know how you like it, what works, what doesn’t, etc. Thanks for the read!

UPDATED: I’ve made some changes based on the feedback on 18 Dec 2009. I hope this is an improvement over the previous piece.


He scrutinized his image in the rearview mirror and turned his head from side to side. His hat spat his hair out in tufts, and stubble crept over his cheeks, chapped lips and jaw. He sighed. It would have to do.

The pickup’s door screamed when he opened it. The wind knifed through threadbare denim as he seated his tired hat lower and zipped his jacket. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, sniffed, and headed for the general store’s entrance.

The wooden building seemed as brittle as the winter. His heels thumped a hollow cadence as he went up the stairs and crossed the porch. The bell over the door jangled as he stepped into the warmth. The figure behind the counter fluttered his heart and made his knees quiver.

She turned and beamed. “Hi, Jake!”

He thought he’d faint for a moment, then recomposed himself. “Hey there, Ellie. How’re you?” The moment he said it he felt phony. A blush burned his cheeks.

“I’m good!” She moved to the end of the counter. “Not used to seeing you in so much. It’s nice.”

Another burn in his cheeks. “Oh, well … you know. I keep needin’ stuff, so … um ….”

He felt stupid. He never knew how to talk to her. He’d been watching her, pining for her, for more than a year. She always made him feel special, even when the store was crowded. He couldn’t figure out what to say, how to say it, and he felt like a schoolboy with his first crush. He hoped he didn’t resort to pulling her hair.

She giggled. “Yeah, I guess we all keep needing things.” She leaned over the counter on her elbows and he panicked. He thought he might see down the collar of the T-shirt she wore, but the neck stayed closed. He didn’t realize he’d looked away until he glanced at her again.

“So, I … I … was just out an’ around, an’ thought maybe I’d stop and pick up a few … things.” He cleared his throat and ripped the hat from his head. He’d forgotten his manners and gritted his teeth in self-loathing.

“Oh, well it’s always nice to see you. I guess you know where everything is.” She winked at him and started to turn away.

“Y-yeah, yeah, but … um ….”

She perked a brow and turned back. “Need some help?” She smiled again and he froze, a rabbit in a coyote’s gaze.

He dropped his eyes and his stomach fluttered. “I-I … I wanted to … I think I wanted to ask you … Ellie ….” He swallowed but the lump wedged in his throat.

She leaned on the counter, her face curious and open. “Yes?”

He squeezed his fists to marshal his courage before he remembered his hat in his hands. He relaxed and stared at the crumpled brim and tried to find words, testosterone, and his voice. He smoothed the softened felt.

“Jake? Are you all right? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Oh, yeah! Yeah, I’m … I’m good! Really!” He spoke too loud and too quick and it sounded forced to him. He inwardly cursed his clumsiness and drew a long breath. “Ellie, look … I’m shitty – sorry, I mean I’m bad – bad at this. I know you got things to do and all, but I wanted to ask you somethin’ and I ….”

She tipped her head and offered a small grin. “It’s okay, go ahead. I’m listening.”

“But … I don’t want you thinkin’ I come in here today just for stuff … I ain’t … I mean, I’m dumb an’ all, but not so I can’t remember supplies more’n a day ahead, y’know?”

She smiled and nodded. “I know that.”

He stared at his shoes. “I sorta … sorta come in to talk to you today.”

“Oh?” She kept her voice even. He couldn’t think straight enough to figure out what that meant.

“So, I was thinkin’ … maybe, if you ain’t opposed ….” Again the lump choked him. He clenched his jaw and eyes shut, then popped them open before he looked her in the eye. “I wondered if you’d–”

The bell jangled and he jumped. His hands stung with adrenaline from the start and he bit his tongue. Bill Wahler and five or six ranchers from up Wildwood way tromped into the store, slapping their arms and rubbing their hands together.

“Woo! Cold out there!” Bill called, and tipped his hat back. “Hey, Jake! How you been, cowboy?” Wahler patted Jake on the back. “Ain’t see ya in a while.”

Jake forced a smile. “Hey Bill, good to see you, sir. Ray, Davey, how you boys doin’?”

The ranchers huddled around him while Bill stepped to the counter. He pulled off his hat and swept his silver hair back. “Miss Ellie, how’s the sweetest thing in the county this fine day?”

Jake heard her laughter tinkle as she spoke with the flirty old man. He chatted another ten minutes or so with the ranchers, walked silently out of the store, climbed into his truck, and made the long, cold ride home.



All original content © 2009 J. Dane Tyler
ALL rights reserved.

28 thoughts on “#FridayFlash: Shy Cowboy

  1. This if really good. It’s charged with tension and longing. The dialogue is fantastic and reminds me a lot of Annie Proulx. I love this line: His hat spat his hair out in tufts.

    Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    Great work – I’m very impressed.

    Thank you! I’m flattered! 🙂

  2. The story was good, I could feel the tension, and once your dialoge started — it moved right along. To be honest, I hated this line: “A bustling figure behind the counter sent a hammer strike through his chest and made his knees quiver.”

    Thanks for your honesty Louise. I appreciate it.

    I had to read it twice to get your meaning. I think it’s a tad shrouded and you could probably get the idea across in a better way — just my opinion. Your story set-up (the first 3 paragraphs) seems a little forced. If I were writing it, I think I would start with the dialogue and work the rest of it in somehow.

    I’ve heard from agents and editors not to start a story with dialog. I try to avoid it now when I can.

    Don’t get me wrong . . . It’s a great story, I just get the idea that you want to know what I “really feel” about its writing style so I’m giving you my “editor” comments.

    I didn’t realize you were an editor. Thank you for taking the time and energy to go through the piece. 🙂

  3. Hey Dane,

    I like it. You accomplish your goals of getting the ‘awkward/nervous’ across. My only suggestion would be to make sure you don’t OVER-write. Sometimes, it’s ok for somebody just to get into a car, rather than have every little detail explained. You are VERY good at description, but I would save it for when you really want to use it, otherwise the beauty of it doesn’t shine through if it’s used for every action. Nicely done though. I like the characters a lot. You make them real and engaging in a short period of time, which is hard to do.
    Take care,

    Thanks for the honest feedback Vanessa. I appreciate your time to read and comment. 🙂

  4. steve

    I think you did a pretty good job portraying the desired qualities; in so much as I wanted to smack the guy!

    Thank you for coming by so faithfully to read and comment, Steve. I’m very grateful. Thanks again!

  5. I would say mission accomplished. Nice work.

    Thanks, Bryce. It seems I get mixed reviews with my work of late, and I’m unsure how to proceed. I appreciate you coming by to read and comment. I know you’re busy with the new baby and your own work. Thanks again!

  6. Berna

    I really like this. I can picture the whole scene and feel his anxiety. At the end, I hoped for the next chapter. Got some specific thoughts. Hope it’s okay. I think his hair spat, not his hat. Kudos for using “cadence;” it’s my favorite word :). I have a hard time picturing him striding to the end of the counter; it does make it sound like it was a long distance to walk. And, why is he attracted to her? What does she look like? Is she nice? Maybe it’s just the chick in me wanting the full picture of budding romance. 🙂

    Thanks, Berna. I appreciate the feedback. I like the image of his hat spitting tufts of his hair out so I’m not going to alter that (writer’s discretion). I think the description of both people would’ve ballooned the piece too much. I didn’t describe the MC either. But thanks for the thoughts, much appreciated, and for the read and comment. 🙂

    1. I think women are “twine thinkers” wherein everything is connected. In such a relational world, we need to know everything and my husband sometimes asks me when I ask about details, “What difference does it make?” I anxiously await the next segment in this romance. I don’t want Jake to get ulcers from unrequited love (from my past Barbara Cartland days – wait. . . was that my outer voice?)

      I like details too. But I’ve been so spanked about including too many descriptors and adjectives I’ve gotten a little shy I guess. I’ve always been of the opinion the reader will supply the details anyway though. 🙂 Thanks for coming back and sharing your insights. I’m happy you did. 🙂

  7. “His hat spat his hair out in tufts” made me lol…[don’t care that skycler just said that too…it’s an AWESOME line]

    Thanks, Karen. It seems most liked it, a few didn’t. 🙂

    I really liked this and could feel everything Jake was feeling. Dropping his eyes to the floor so he wouldn’t see down her shirt tugged at my heart. He’s COURTLY! Very nice piece. Great dialog. I hope he tries again with Ms. Ellie.

    Thank you for the time and the feedback, Karen. It means a lot when folks read and comment. 🙂

  8. That was an excellent vignette! You’ve a real gift with language. Like everyone else I really liked the spitting hat. 🙂

    Thank you very much for the feedback Anton. Much appreciated. 🙂

  9. Oh, the poor guy!

    This character study does portray well the awkwardness, the shyness, and the embarrassment of a man who doesn’t have an easy way of talking with a woman he’s crushing on.

    A suggestion from someone who is also trying to find a place in the writing world: I think you use too many adjectives in too many places. It stops the cadence, almost like speed bumps slowing a car.

    This isn’t the first time someone’s said so.

    Please take it in the spirit it is intended…it’s still a very good piece that just needs a little editing.

    And it’s not blah at all!

    Thank you for taking time to read and your honest feedback.

  10. [“…Ellie], look … I’m shitty – sorry, I mean I’m bad – bad at this…” very descriptive piece. Jake is not practiced at anything except breaking horses. He’s damned uncomfortable even being in town again…but now he’s made a special trip. The story is compelling. Writers have variances in stories, sometimes paragraphs. Using too many words one way and not enough in a second. Anyone, including the original author, can rewrite the scene a hundred times. The conveyance of awkwardness, shyness, et. al., as prefaced, was indeed met in the storyline. It is good writing. The story was good. Sad truth is…Jake has encountered these personality malfunctions his entire life.

    …darc, had you a dragon bite Jake’s head off at the end would made a more fitting end for these schlub reviewers…geeish!

    Thank you Garry, that’s a flattering comment. I think if the dragon bites off the MC’s head I’d hear about the abrupt, unforeshadowed event and it wouldn’t be any more kindly received. 😉 All opinions are welcomed, of course, and I appreciate you taking the time to read my work and share yours. 🙂

  11. Once you got into the dialogue you really found your rhythm. Maybe you ought to start thinking of dialogue as one of your strengths instead of a weakness. Or have you already?

    Jury’s still out on that Sher. You yourself have from time to time chided me on my weaknesses in dialog (rightfully). If I have a strength in writing I don’t know what it is aside from overwriting and adjective abuse.

    Since you want feedback, I have a couple of suggestions for the first few paragraphs, before the conversation. I noticed that the rhythm of each sentence is very similar. Might want to think of ways to change up the sentence structure so it doesn’t become ponderous. Also, you could lighten up on the imagery without, in my opinion, losing any of the punch. Here’s how I would edit the second paragraph, as an example:

    “The door of his battered pickup screamed when he opened it. The wind knifed through threadbare denim as he seated his tired hat more firmly over his brow and zipped his jacket. He stuffed his hands in his pockets, sniffed, and headed for the general store’s entrance.”

    That’s awesome, I’ll update the piece with similar edits. Not sure if I’m even capable of identifying the sentence rhythm. Maybe I need to read aloud. I keep promising to do that and never do.

    Overall, though, great job! I felt the poor dude’s nerves.

    Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it. 🙂

  12. I think it’s just the first two paragraphs that are overworked. Your dialogue is terrific!

    Thanks Laura. I appreciate the time to read and comment. I’m glad you stopped by. 🙂

  13. G.P. Ching

    I also loved the dialogue. I think I would cut out a few of the adjectives in the first couple of paragraphs. To get closer to the character, try writing pieces of it in first person-especially the prose sections. I don’t mean rewrite the whole piece, just see if forcing yourself into the character brings out more of his feelings and less of the descriptions that sound like how someone else would describe you. For example, would you say “my stubble crept over my rough cheeks” or “I was badly in need of a shave.” Same in third person if you want closeness to the character. The plot comes easy to you. No problems there.

    Well, G. P., I feel compelled to say this isn’t really a plot. At least, I didn’t see one. I portrayed a character with a desire, something he wanted, and his inner demons and external forces coming between him and his goal. That’s a scene, but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say PLOT. I’m glad you enjoyed the dialog and thank you for the honest feedback. I appreciate your time.

    1. I’m going to interject here (hope that’s okay) and say IMO it is a plot. He starts at the beginning of a plan, the plan unfolds (not the way he wants) and it ends at the conclusion of the plan. You’ve been labeling these as vignettes, but they’re really stories with a beginning, middle, and end. That’s how I see it, anyway. MAYBE it comes so effortlessly you don’t even realize you’re doing it. 😉

      I knew you were going to say that! You’re always there to make sure I see the story in the piece and I love it! LOVE IT!

  14. Oh poor guy! I really feel for him, and I want him to go back and get his girl! I loved the hat/hair line. I can relate to that look 😉

    Me too. More now than in many many years. 🙂

    It looks like your readers agree that this is a fantastic storyline and a great character study. So it’s back to the technical pieces, which I can’t speak to as well as others, but I’ll try anyway:) I liked the flow of the dialogue and it did seem more effortless than the opening paragraphs. I agree with Sherri’s comment about changing up the rhythm in the sentence structure, and like her revision.

    Her revision is awesome. I loved it. 🙂 And you can speak to the technical aspects just fine. 🙂

    Maybe a few less adjectives to avoid sensory overload. Other than that I think it’s great.

    I’m getting the sensation and got an indepth helper session from Sherri about the weight of descriptors and so I’ve pared them down dramatically. I’m reposting in a few. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time, D — I know how crazy things are for you and it means a lot that you came by and spent time here. 🙂

  15. I think this was a study in both the characters of Jake and Ellie. I read a lot into them both from this. I felt the poor guy’s struggle to talk to her, but she knew it (the little minx!), and I also felt her amusement and a tiny sting of naughtiness and cruel fun in her dragging out the agony! The characters engaged the reader, and I empathised with Jake, which is what good character building is all about. Get your audience to genuinely care about the character, and you’re 80% there. I really cared! I wanted her to put him out of his misery!

    Thank you so much for the kind and gentle feedback, Amy. I deeply appreciate the time and energy you put into reading my work and sharing your thoughts. I’m very grateful. 🙂

  16. Dane, I don’t have anything new to add, but I really enjoyed this! I think you’ve accomplished what you set out to do with the characters. Like everyone else, I love the imagery of the hair spitting out! I also felt sorry and empathized with poor Jake and I agree that Ellie probably knew he was struggling – how unkind to string him along like that! I’d love to see a continuation of this if it’s something you’re interested in….

    Susan, thank you so much for the kind remarks. I really appreciate your time in reading my work and that you shared your thoughts. I don’t know if there’s any more a story to this than what’s here (and I’m not convinced THIS is a story, honestly!), but if something strikes I may at least use them for these #fridayflash bits. Once again, thank you for reading and commenting on the piece. I’m very grateful. 🙂

  17. Great work sir. Very strong dialogue. Very real and grounded, If this had been one of my stories someone would have cracked a joke or turned into a werewolf. 🙂

    Thanks, Al. I appreciate it. I was tempted to have a werewolf or dragon or something but that doesn’t get received well in my pieces for some reason. And Lord knows I’m not funny enough for jokes. 🙂

  18. To me, ascribing sounds to objects got tiring and distracting. The door screamed, the heels thumped, the bell jangled. This would be nice if it were spread out over the piece, but to have so much assault you in two short paragraphs I found it very off-putting.

    I enjoyed the story, but I felt like the story and the ending were completely separate. I didn’t find anything depressing in Jake and Ellie’s exchange, in fact I thought it was quite humorous. The harshness of the ending struck me as being somewhat strange. It felt like it didn’t fit with the jovial tone of the story.

    Jared, thanks for the honest and blunt feedback. I appreciate your time.

  19. Dane, I liked this version. Dialogue especially good, and the characters quite real. Your verbs are strong — very strong; remember, sometimes a laugh is just a laugh, the inside is as cold as the outside. I think if you tame some of your verbs, you’ll have a stronger piece. I love the yearning in this story. Peace, Linda

    Thank you very much Linda. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The balancing act for me as a writer is knowing how to “tame” the verbs, but more importantly, when to do so. Part of me feels I’m going to be down to “See Dick run. Run, Dick, Run.” Oh well. No one’s perfect. Thank you for the honest feedback and most of all for the time to read and comment. I appreciate you spending it with me, ESPECIALLY if you read both versions. 🙂

  20. Wow, this gave me some insight into my younger dating days. Poor boys! I think you really captured that shy cowboy’s plight. Left me wondering if he was kicking up dust in the field afterwards while replaying where things went wrong. The only place I was hung up reading was: “…pickup’s door screamed when he opened it. The wind knifed through threadbare denim…” I think the adjectives are strong enough to be distracting. I wonder if a simple “creak” and “cut” would play out differently. I don’t want the elements to steal the show – I want to stay with the adorable cowboy.

    Thanks, Jaymie! I’m glad you liked it. There seems to be agreement about the verbs being too strong … which is tough to digest. But live and learn, I always say. 🙂 Thanks for coming by and taking the time to read and comment. Hope you’re having a great weekend!

  21. Deanna Schrayer

    I think you did a great job of showing his nervousness, and embarrassment. I feel sorry for him, poor fellow.
    Great work!

    Thank you Deanna. I appreciate the encouragement. Thank you too for reading and commenting. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

  22. I can’t write worth beans myself, but I really enjoyed this. It’s sweet in an awkward “Hey, he reminds me of me back in the day!”-kind of way. 🙂

    I’m glad you enjoyed it! If it brought back awkward, gawky moments for you, so much the better. 😉 Thank you for coming by and reading my work, and sharing your thoughts. Have a wonderful, blessed Christmas and New Year. 🙂

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