Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Mr. Mike

The comments following my last post reminded me of an old favorite by the wonderfully demented dead comedy writer, Michael O'Donoghue: "How to Write Good."

O'Donoghue, incidentally, was one of the founding writers on "Saturday Night Live," and had the distinction of appearing on the show's first-ever sketch in 1975, a cold-opening where he plays a language teacher. An unknown (though about to be very known) John Belushi is his foreign student. O'Donoghue offers such phrases as "I would like to feed your fingertips to the wolverines," which Belushi carefully repeats in a thick foreign accent. Suddenly, the teacher grips his chest, gasps, and keels over dead of a heart attack. The student watches him for a moment, and then dutifully grabs his own chest, gasps, and keels over.

Anyway, here's a snippet of "How to Write Good." Read the rest of it here.
Lesson 1 - The Grabber

The "grabber" is the initial sentence of a novel or short story designed to jolt the reader out of his complacency and arouse his curiosity, forcing him to press onward. For example:
"It's no good, Alex," she rejoined, "Even if I did love you, my father would never let me marry an alligator."
The reader is immediately bombarded with questions, questions such as "Why won't her father let her marry an alligator?" "How come she doesn't love him?" and "Can she learn to love him in time?" The reader's interest has been "grabbed"!

Just so there'll be no misunderstanding about grabbers, I've listed a few more below:
"I'm afraid you're too late," sneered Zoltan. "The fireplace has already flown south for the winter!"

Sylvia lay sick among the silverware...

Chinese vegetables mean more to me than you do, my dear," Charles remarked to his wife, adding injury to insult by lodging a grapefruit knife in her neck.

"I have in my hands," Professor Willobee exclaimed, clutching a sheaf of papers in his trembling fingers and pacing in circles about the carpet while I stood at the window, barely able to make out the Capitol dome through the thick, churning fog that rolled in off the Potomac, wondering to myself what matter could possibly be so urgent as to bring the distinguished historian bursting into my State Department office at the unseemly hour, "definitive proof that Abraham Lincoln was a homo!"
These are just a handful of the possible grabbers. Needless to say, there are thousands of others, but if you fail to think of them, feel free to use any or all of these.
Now, I grant that it might not be to everyone's taste...

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