What’s the difference between a bowl and a kidney dish?

December 7th, 2009

I once wrote a story in which one of my main characters, a 13-year-old girl, wakes in her hospital room after surgery to discover that she has broken her femur so violently in so many places that metal plates and screws have been inserted into the bone to help it knit together. On hearing this news, she begins to gag – she is about to throw up. My second main character, a 28-year-old doctor with a backstory, searches around for “a bowl” for her to throw up in. (He does not find one, and cups his hands for her to throw up into; the gesture is meant to reveal his character.)

I’m currently reading Water for Elephants, and I read this line last night: “I turn as vomit explodes from my mouth. Someone is there with a kidney dish, but I overshoot…” Do you see how precise that is – kidney dish? The reader instantly pictures the curved stainless steel dish used in a hospital. The reader has a solid image in her head. A bowl? What is that? Tupperware? Glass? Something from the cafeteria? That – that precision, that detail and care, that research to get it right, that sharpening of every word – that is the difference between stories that stay inside the computer and stories that make their way in the world.

What’s the difference between a bowl and a kidney dish? All the difference in the world.

One Response to “What’s the difference between a bowl and a kidney dish?”

  1. kristen on December 7, 2009 2:50 pm

    Amazing. And yes, exactly true. “All the difference in the world.”

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