People who are charged with creating the catchy titles for news stories have an interesting problem to resolve. They must convey, in very few words, the gist of the story while also generating enough interest in the reader for them to do more than just scan the text. I regularly read the BBC News website, http://www.bbc.com/news/, and have always found their writers outstanding in their ability in meeting these twin needs. In addition, their sentence structure is quite different than ours here in the US.
Today, January 31, 2014, the following headlines appeared:
- “Lapdancers cleared of kidnapping” – the whole concept of these performers ransoming off one of their audience members is almost too much to consider.
- “Soldiers smash eggy soldier record” – clearly the term, eggy, is something the British would understand.
- Chobham ‘mini-tornado lifted cats in air’” – I read this article just to see if they had photos. Would it be like the cow in the original “Wizard of Oz?”
- “Suspicious car warning to parents” – is this a story about a built-in device that tells parents the driver is a little off or maybe it’s about a Steven King novel?
- “ATM spree appeal renewed by police” – is this a new fundraising mechanism by the police?
- ‘Chewbacca’ attack hits cash tills’” – a “Star Wars” character takes it revenge?
- “Cow row in Olympic city” – in England, ‘row’ is pronounced like ‘cow’. It’s probably funnier if you didn’t know that.
- “Romania reverses Nymphomaniac ban” – (my favorite) I didn’t realize they’d been banned in the first place.
She was in the supermarket. Tall, slender and pretty, she had two items in her carrier as she approached the checkout. I first noticed the zebra print dress which exposed a great deal of leg as she walked past me. Standing behind her in the line, I glanced down and saw her matching zebra print high heels. That did not surprise me since I know how important it is for some people to match their shoes to their outfits. What did surprise me was the zebra print wallet she pulled out of her purse.
Was she wearing more zebra print underneath that dress? More importantly, what was her closet like? Did it include other prints with matching shoes and matching wallets? And what would she do when fashion changed and she stopped wearing that zebra print dress? Would she get rid of the shoes and the wallet too?
Sometimes words are not on the page but spoken by others in performances. We think of the plays of Shakespeare or Ibsen or maybe the songs of the Beatles whose words transport us to places never imagined or considered. Words that move us also appear in movies. The following clips from Them illustrate not only strong writing but depict an even stronger woman, Pat(ricia) Medford, a PhD in biology. She, Joan Weldon, is the love interest to Robert Graham (James Arness), the FBI agent assigned to the case, in this movie.
She demonstrates her no-nonsense and take-charge attitude in the first two clips. When I first watched this movie, I was very surprised to see a beautiful woman not only have a science doctorate and only screams once, but also orders the male stars around. They don’t argue with her; they just do as they are told.
There are many other instances of strong writing by Ted Sherdeman, who wrote the screenplay, and Russell S. Hughes, who adapted the original story by George Worthing Yates, in this movie. Before you ever see Them, they are constantly referred to as ‘them.’ Read more
“The role of a story was, in the broadest terms, to transpose a single problem into another form. Depending on the nature and direction of the problem, a solution could be suggested in the narrative. Tengo would return to the real world with that suggestion in hand. It was like a piece of paper bearing the indecipherable text of a magic spell. At times it lacked coherence and served no immediate practical purpose. But it would contain a possibility. Someday he might be able to decipher the spell. That possibility would gently warm his heart from within.” page 208, 1Q84
Haruki Murakami‘s words are not only beautifully written but they describe the ultimate goal of every story, to reflect on the human condition and provide insight on dealing with our issues. I am currently reading 1Q84 and have read The Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and his writing touches me deeply. Strangely fantastic, they lead me down paths and roads not even imagined. Yet, as quoted above, there is an “indecipherable text” included in each that provides direction for my future.
He was with his wife assisting the kilt company in their tent at the gay rodeo. A customer returned several times to check the merchandise. During the third visit, he came to the husband and said, “You have beautiful eyes.”
Why did it take three visits before he got up the courage to speak? Was he looking for something long term or just a one-night stand?
What was the husband’s reaction? And his wife’s? Would he tell this tale to others? What would they think? That he was gay as well? If he spurned this advance, what would the customer do? What if the husband had responded positively to this advance?
In a story, who would have the larger role? Would the husband have been in a loveless marriage and seen this as a way out? Would he have run screaming from the tent? Why did he stay there in the first place? What if the customer had come back and pressed the issue?
“Hi, I’m Mallori and I’ll be serving you tonight. Can I get you something to drink?”
“Sure, I’ll have iced tea with lemon.”
“I’ll be back in a moment. Let me know if you have any questions about the menu.”
(Mallori leaves and returns soon with the tea and sits across from the patron in the booth. She pulls out her pad and pen. She is twenty’ish with shoulder length hair and a nice figure. She is wearing black slacks and a black tee-shirt with the restaurant’s logo on the left and a beer ad on the back. The patron is mid-fifties and dressed in a sports coat with a tie.)
“What can I get for you?”
“I’ll have the St. Louis style ribs with the dry rub, half order, with a baked sweet potato and cole slaw.”
“Good choice. Are you from this area?” Read more
I met N. Scott Momaday, a Kiowa, while I was in college. He has won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer, for his work. Having read three of his books, The Man Made of Words, House Made of Dawn and The Way to Rainy Mountain, I can only say he paints beautiful pictures with his words.
Summertime and long lines of Army Reserve trucks and jeeps are caravaning down an interstate in the South.
Where are they going or coming from? What cargo are they carrying? If someone wanted to steal something in one of these vehicles, how would they do it?
[This was a personal experience with these same questions and formed the basis for my first, unpublished, novel.]
Approximately twenty years old, she would open her book and sketch the older woman sitting across from her. Every time the woman looked up, she would close the sketch book or flip the page to something else she was sketching. Over a period of about fifteen minutes, she finished the sketch and then began sketching several members of a high school aged tour group.
She was sitting in an international airport terminal waiting for her flight like everyone else there. Why was she hiding the fact she was sketching the people around her? What would have happened if the others noticed what she was doing?
If I was to use this in a story, would the artist or the older woman be a major character? Would she be sketching someone who was trying to remain anonymous, e.g., a spy or a criminal? If that was the case, and they found out, what would happen to her?
Would this sketch lead her to a life as an artist or would memories of this simply be part of her background?
Harriet sat bolt upright at the sound. That could only be one thing, Gabriel’s Trumpet. It had been a long time since that had been used. She checked her monitor and saw an urgent message had just arrived. Opening it, she realized it was from the ‘big guy’ himself. No mistaking it, the little angels fluttered across the screen as the message materialized.
It read, “Harriet, George needs you down in Binghamton. Take care of him.” It was signed with just his initial, “G.” This had never happened before and she had a full schedule for today. She was only halfway through her other emails and there was the report on reclaiming another section of heaven. New arrivals had the oddest ideas about what heaven should be like. Too many Cecil B. DeMille movies, she thought. Scanning her calendar, she realized she could put off the report until tomorrow since it wasn’t due until next week and the prayer answering could be shifted to Marty, her assistant. He had gotten pretty good at separating the sincere from the insincere and not going overboard, giving people everything they wanted immediately. That cleared her morning. Read more