Always shake up your readers

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Readers are like a good martini: they need to be shaken and not stirred.

This scares them and/or brings out the best in them–if they survive. If something bothers them, do it a lot. It’s like saying “what can possibly go wrong” to a person who’s superstitious.

Weird combinations of words are one way to do it: God’s beautiful sunset was enhanced by his beautiful mosquitoes.

ironyOr: Her lips were like cherries from sucking blood out of her victims.

He was a good cook, using parsley, sage, rosemary, and time to create all his recipes.

In his book, A Scots Quair, Gibbon describes an old lady at the breakfast table poking at her grapefruit the way a sparrow pecks at dung. (What a nice breakfast time image.)

I like more than plot twists, I like language twists, warping proverbs into hash, making quiches our of cliches, turning good ideas upside down, and saying the very last thing the reader expects. As examples, here are a few proverbs with the shit slapped out of them:

  • Absence makes the heart wander.
  • Actions speak louder than words to those who are listening.
  • A journey of  a single step makes a more boring story than a journey of a thousand miles.
  • All ends begin with good things.
  • A watched pot never boils, especially when you’re smoking it.
  • Beggars can choose to be beggars.
  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder before cataract surgery.
  • Better never than late.
  • Cleanliness is next to godliness and that explains why the shower is my church.
  • Don’t bite the hand that feeds you unless you don’t like the food.
  • Don’t count your chickens before the enemy opens fire.
  • Don’t book a judge without a cover story.
  • Don’t put off until tomorrow what’s due today.
  • A stitch in time wastes thread.
  • Bob wasn’t the sharpest marble in the box.

Sometimes, your twists become irony as in this well known example from George Orwell’s Burmese Days: “In the evening the wounded boy was taken to a Burmese doctor, who, by applying some poisonous concoction of crushed leaves to his left eye, succeeded in blinding him.”

Or Churchill’s response in this old joke: She:  “If I Were Your Wife I’d Put Poison in Your Tea!” He: “If I Were Your Husband I’d Drink It”

Or plays on words as in a prospective sign in the Leavenworth penitentiary kitchen: “NO UNLEAVENED BREAD.”

And, a sign on the door of a church restroom: No Holy Crap OR a sign in a brothel, “We’re proud to leave you f_cked up.”

Or a statement made by a Jewish mohel during a circumcision: “Let’s cut this bris short, I have an incoming call.”

It’s so easy to say things like “same old, same old” and “same difference” rather than something fresh, new and possibly dangerous like, “I’ve replaced ‘same old’ with ‘everything is new under the sun'” or, at least, “a different sameness.”

If everybody’s saying it, it doesn’t belong in your story–unless you’re twisting it up, using sarcasm, some nasty irony, or mocking somebody like a bird brain. While all this might be fatal for readers, it’s not serious.

–Malcolm

sofcoverIf you want to see this kind of a twisted approach to story telling taken to an extreme, I invite you to read my satirical novel Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.

 

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