Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ish'txa'qrau and the Whale

By popular demand--meaning that one of my dear Philistines has requested it--I am going to demonstrate the rules of hooking that I laid out on a popular novel. In order to preserve a sense of mystery, I'm not going to tell you what it is, but a bit of steady sleuthing will turn it up.

Q. It seems like a lot of published authors are actually artless cretins (which SUCKS because I'm JEALOUS), because they're not following your advice. Can you show us how their work would clearly improve if they'd only sup once or twice from the fount of your immense wisdom?

A. Why certainly, young grasshopper. The inability of many a published author to write a good hook is a well-known phenomenon. They get lazy after their first book, and rely on momentum to keep a reader through the first page. Big no-no! For shame! So here's a famous one after I apply my inspired pen to it:

"Come back here, you stupid whale!" I shouted. But let me back up for a bit, before the part with the harpoon and the mangled corpse.

I--a man or a woman--am called Ish'txa'qrau, and I can't decide which jacket I should wear today. An awful long time ago, I was a miserable pauper, owing to my natural inability to keep a steady job. Being poorer than a gambling-addicted church mouse without family ties to, say, a nice person named Guido, I thought it would be prudent to sail around the world. In a boat. I like to sail, because it helps keep me from beating people up, especially at funerals in November. On Thursdays. I hate Thursdays. The sun's morning rays caught my face just so, throwing it into relief like the face of Abraham Lincoln--who often got into fistfights with November funeral-goers like I do--on Mount Rushmore at sunrise.

Notice the sense of mystery established by not knowing the gender of the narrator or how to pronounce his or her name. (Imagine a woman with an impossible name beating up people at funerals for no reason! How do they ask her to stop?) Everything is explained and described. Conflict is created by various emotional words, a stellar opening line, a corpse, and references to harpooning and fighting. Pace is modulated through alternating short and long sentences. A colorful description of the narrator rounds out the ideas.

Surely it's obvious that this is superior to the original, even if you've never read the original before. It must be, because I'm hard-pressed to think of anything that outclasses it.

I leave running the result through a thesaurus as an exercise for the reader.

2 Comments:

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Clarissa said...

Dear Mr. Writing Person,

That's really terrific!

Can I ask you another question? This one's about my work in progress.

See, it's an alternate history story about Abraham Lincoln, and there are robots, and a seductive Japanese spy, and there are lots of explosions. And pirate ships, of course. So I think I've got the corpses covered, and if I open with the seductive Japanese spy, I can put in lots of mystery about his or her gender and unpronouncable name.

But I'm really concerned because Abraham Lincoln is my main character, and a) he has a prounouncable name, and b) everyone knows his gender, and c)if I compare him to Abraham Lincoln to effectively make use of similies, I'm comparing him to himself - and thus removing all the mystery.

HELP!

Or is it enough to apply your brilliant rules to the opening two paragraphs, and then just write really crappily and assume it will be ok??????

 
At 11:34 AM, Blogger Mr. Writing Person said...

It sounds like you have a very unique story! That's wonderful, because my next Q&A will be all about guaranteeing uniqueness in setting, and you'll be able to share some of your obvious wisdom in the comments section. Great idea for an opening, too!

Personally, I'd be wary of using Abraham Lincoln himself, as the mysterious Keepers of President Lincoln's Lost Underwear might decide to slit my throat. Fortunately, they're not very bright, so you could probably get away with changing the actual gender. (By the way, not every character has to have an undefined gender. You can leave other facts as minor mysteries, such as waist circumference.) If you do, you might change the first name to something obviously female like "Babe-raham."

Of course, if you like, you could leave her as Abraham, and then the mystery would be, like, why did her parents name her after a guy? That'd be wicked literate.

 

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