27 10 2010

A few days ago I was at the playground with Nathaniel.  He’d run off to climb stairs and fly down slides and I–exhausted–sat down to rest.  I absently started to play with a piece of mulch on the ground and killed a mosquito with it when all of the sudden…SNATCH!  This little, piddly ant walked by and took my dead-mosquito trophy right off the end of my mulch.  Without so much as a “how-do-you-do” or “bug-off”.

Whether this ant was completely oblivious to the fact that it stole my dead bug or wheather it was some trained ninjant doesn’t matter.  The point is, it got your attention.


Snatching the Reader’s Attention

Yesterday I finally got to see The Secret of Kells, and what a treat.  The movie starts off with a great chase as a boy and a group of “illuminators” (monks) try to catch a mischevious goose throughout their village.  Twice during this scene, we break away from the goose chase and the audience’s attention is drawn to important elements of the film.

This is the bait-and-switch, the Kansas City Shuffle, the Snatch!  Whatever you want to call it.  It’s an important piece of most good stories, and something I learned from my dad in public speaking.  You never start a speech on your topic.  You tell a joke, a story, a poem, anything to grab the audience’s attention…and then you lovingly direct that attention to the meat of your story.  Just like that little ant, though, the story has to be strong enough to carry your target audience’s attention all the way back to the ant hill.


A Word on Key Elements

Sometimes you’ll see a particularly well crafted story open with a scene that has little to do with the synopsis–say, a boy chasing a goose.  But what seems an insignificant actually introduces important elements that you’ll encounter throughout the story–boy takes goose’s feathers for quills, which he uses to draw something beautiful, a scenario that affects the rest of The Secret of Kells.  The ant, the goose feather, the whatever-the-distraction-is should be brought up again at some point in your story.

Not every opening and/or transition has to have this introduction of key elements.  However, if you can manage to create such a scenerio, then you’re on your way to becoming a better writer, a worthy craftsmen.




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