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.
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.
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.