"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Going for the drama, in writing-- II

"Get to the point," I often irritate friends who get a little long-winded in telling a story.
What I'm really saying is, "Go for the drama."
Here is a version of the first  page of handouts for my workshop session for the Oklahoma City Writers group at Full Circle Bookstore.


Consider these first lines of novels:
  • It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
  • Call me Ishmael.
  • It was a bright cold day, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
  • All children, except one, grow up.
  • Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.
  • It was inevitable; the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.
  • Elmer Gantry was drunk.
  • A green hunting camp squeezed on top of a fleshy balloon of a head.
  • The last camel collapsed at noon. 

       They all grab your attention, and make you want to keep reading. Quiz--Do you know the authors? Answers at bottom.

In the beginning
“En el Principio, era el Verbo, y el Verbo era con Dios, y el Verbo era Dios.” San Juan 1:1
      “In the beginning was The Verb, and the Verb was with God and The Verb was God”
 “…le mot, c’est le Verb, et le Verb c’est Dios.” Victor Hugo
     “The word is the verb, and the verb is God.”
“No verb, no story, no drama.” Terry Clark
  • My students know I am a verb nut. Much of modern writing is guilty of "verbicide." If you want drama, you have to be a verbaholic.  
  • The most important words in a sentence are the verbs. Without verbs, nouns and adverbs and adjectives sit like empty boxcars on a siding, going nowhere, without a locomotive. Without them, nothing happens. They are action keys to getting to the point quickly, to grabbing and keeping readers’ attention.
  • Theology on John 1:1. The Word (English translation), is really Verb. The Verb is the incarnate Christ, but in the beginning was the force and the power of creation. In sentences and storytelling, the verb is the power and force of creation.

First sentences
The most important sentences you will write in a story?
The first ones.
Why?
What is the purpose of writing? To be read.
If you don’t catch your readers’ attention, you’re wasting your time.
Best test for effective first sentences: “Will I keep reading?”
It’s called, “Going for the drama.”
Examples
from my former students' stories and one I did for Oklahoma Today magazine on weekly newspapers:
  • “The sergeant fumbles with one hand to unbutton his fly.”
  • “Every Tuesday at one p.m., a silver-haired woman in her eighties centers the Sayre Record and plunks down seventy-five pennies for the latest news.”
  • “’I want to study people with the flesh on,’ she says.”
  • “The long, thin fingers of a frustrated pianist work the control board switches as her melodic voice interrupts the airwaves.
  • “The sergeant fumbles with one hand to unbutton his fly.”
In keeping with brevity, this is the end of this post. The second workshop handout follows.
  • Answers to authors--Charles Dickens-A Tale of Two Cities, Herman Melville-Moby Dick, George Orwell-1984, J.M. Barrie-Peter Pan,  VladmirNobokov-Lolita, Gabriel Garcia Marquez--Love in the Time of Cholera, Sinclair Lewis-Elmer Gantry, John Kennedy Toole--A Confederacy of Dunces, Ken Follett--The Key to Rebecca.


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