Monday, September 26, 2016

Fiction or non

     Whenever I’m selling books at some venue or other, I always ask each person who comes by my table, “Do you like to read suspense?”  They’re either going to answer yes or no.  If it’s yes, I launch into a brief spiel about my series novels.  I hand them a book so they can read the blurb on the back, and then I shut up while they do.  A gratifying percentage of the time they’ll buy.

     If the answer is no, I ask them what they do like to read, then chat with them a moment or two and thank them for stopping by.

     A certain number will say they only read non-fiction, and I automatically give up right then, because I’ve found people most often read one or the other, hardly ever both.  Although for some reason non-fiction readers who will never read a novel will go to a (fictional) movie in a heartbeat.  I guess that’s because we all tend to more readily believe what we see and hear, even if we know down deep it’s all an act.

     Then you always have that person who says, “Nope.  Don’t read no fiction.  I just read the Bible.”


Monday, September 19, 2016

Artful hooking

     Early in my lifelong writing side-career, when I was cranking out articles and short stories for magazines, I learned that you must hook a reader somehow to make the person stop casually flipping through the magazine pages, and read your offering.  This can be done with an arresting photo, or an unusual, intriguing title that maybe uses quirky alliteration, or that hints at some major conflict, or that provokes a grin.  Or it can be done with an irresistible opening sentence that absolutely demands further reading.  I often like to start with a bit of dialog, for example, because it invariably grabs interest, the way a whisper from a dark alley is bound to rivet you as you walk past.

     Here are a few effective introductory hooks from some masters:

“The cold passed reluctantly from the earth and the retreating fog revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.”  The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

“The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.”  The Gunslinger by Stephen King

“It was a bitter cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”  1984 by George Orwell

“They shoot the white girl first.”  Paradise by Toni Morrison

“You better not never tell nobody but God.”  The Color Purple by Alice Walker

“A screaming comes across the sky.”  Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

     In each of these cases, the author in effect poses a startling unusual question, and we’re drawn in to read further in search of an answer.

     In successful writing, at least, hooking can be elevated to an art form.


Monday, September 5, 2016

The Right to Bear Arms

     In medieval times, heralds had the dicey job of running messages between rival warlords across a tense battlefield under a flag of truce.  Between bloody wars they had the much safer job of colorfully announcing the contestants in entertaining tournaments and jousts.  The only problem was the contestants were anonymously clad head to toe in body armor.  So each considerately carried some sort of identifying symbolism on his shield.  A bear and a ragged staff meant the Earl of Warwick was tucked away inside all that clanking, creaking metal.

     So the heralds became experts and eventually even the respected arbiters of who was who among the elite, judging who had the right to claim membership in any particular bloodline.  Often this involved the bestowing of great wealth upon whomever a herald decreed was the rightful heir among sometimes many rival legitimate and illegitimate claimants.  Each of the great clans evolved a unique coat of arms incorporating symbols depicting that particular ancestry.

     In 1484 King Richard III set up the College of Arms in London.  It’s still one of the few heraldic authorities in the world, consulting on ceremonial matters, researching bloodlines, keeping meticulous records.  Still deciding who has “the right to bear arms.”

     Nothing whatever to do with weaponry.

     Interesting how certain such phrases in our complex language have morphed into entirely different meanings over time.