Writing For Dummies
Writing is a lot easier than it looks. If you have ever watched a writer, you know what mean. They pretend to agonize over every letter. Hunched over the old Underwood typewriter, working against a deadline, they somehow manage to peck out a journalistic masterpiece. The old clock on the wall monitors their progress. The overflowing ashtray marks their desperation, as a bottle of old rotgut slowly disappears - the measure of their inspiration. And courage. They'll need it, with that cigar chomping editor pacing in the background.
News flash: that's just Hollywood, and I can prove it. Here is an actual newspaper headline:
"Police: Woman apparently didn't swallow cell phone voluntarily"
Now I ask you, with a headline like that, how could you go wrong? Just start typing, and this story will write itself. What happened to the swallowed cell phone? If the phone still works, Nokia will have their new ad campaign. "Small enough to swallow, if you have to!"
"Girl gets fork stuck in head"
Did it happen in the dining room, on a holiday, at a large, boisterous family gathering? Then it's not news. Or did it happen in a shadowy cellar, with a creepy guy drooling about "some fava beans and a nice chianti?" Now thereís† a story, maybe worth a Hollywood movie. Which brings up my next point.
A good story has to tell us Who, What, When, Where, How. And sometimes Why. America's favorite editor, Perry White, agrees. He also famously observed, "Man bites dog, that's news!"† I would guess that even the esteemed Mr. White would have trouble deciding between "Fork Stuck in Head" and "Woman Swallows Phone."
I promise, this is the last headline:
"Auxiliary police officer aims for dog, shoots fiance"
Dear reader - take this anywhere you want. Write the story, send it in. Feel free to include forks, cell phones, and anything else that advances the journalistic merit of the story. Donít ignore the power of similes and metaphors in your writing. Can you spot the error in this simile?
"Bad similes littered the room, like rotting rat carcasses carefully festooned about a Christmas tree."
If you said "Aha! The writer should have called it a Holiday Tree," give yourself bonus points. Then go check in to a writers'† clinic to get some help. Every good writer knows there's no such thing as a bad simile. Sorry, that was kind of a trick question.
Metaphors, on the other hand, can go terribly off course and crash.
"A sea of bad metaphors threatened to swamp our foundering literary craft, then relented in the calming atmosphere imposed by various official reference works on acceptable usage."
At first glance, this appears to be a perfectly formed metaphor. The author began with Pulitzer Prize aspirations, but lost nerve just past the halfway point and orphaned the metaphor. Fortunately, this is easily fixed.
"A sea of bad metaphors threatened to swamp our foundering literary craft, then relented in the calming atmosphere of the Bay of Strunk and White, where safe, but rudderless, we continue to drift, a run-on sentence in search of a happy harbor."
I wonder how much money that Pulitzer Prize amounts to, in US dollars.
Next week - How to Hop Up a Headline: Aspire to Alliteration
Now excuse me, I'm busy reading the paper.