12 March 2010

The Naked Writer 02: Goosing the Reader

Why are you reading this particular blog?

Was it the title?

Perhaps this blog is just one of many on your list, and you're looking for a few blogs about writing that appeal to you as a fledgling author or an experienced author like me who likes to be juiced every now and then.

Perhaps you were exploring the blog-o-sphere and came across the title The Naked Writer, giggled a little as you imagined a writer sitting butt-naked in front of his or her computer (hopefully not in a leather chair!), and then decided to read the blog for perhaps a titillating description of the aforementioned naked writer, imagining him to be Brad Pitt or her to be Angelina Jolie.

Who does like a little goose every now and then, eh?

Well, I goosed ya! I've given you a big goose pinch on the arse side of your salacious intellect and, so far, I haven't gotten my face slapped across the blog-o-sphere.

The Goosed Ya Factor is at the heart of all good writing because the end result of all good writing is to be read by readers.

And the Goosed Ya Factor begins with the first word of the first sentence of the first paragraph of the first page of the first chapter. It's emotionally and intellectually goosing the reader into saying, "Oh!" in a silent, mental shrill.

Goosed Ya begins when the reader has forgotten about the author and has begun concentrating on the story from the opening sentence.

From the time we are children, we are told, "Look don't touch."

We can't help touching, though. We're tactile beings. We're attracted to something, and we want to touch it. Even people. Such touching, however, will get us into trouble at the mall, on the bus, or in the subway.

Writers like readers. Readers help us to make a living. But, we've got to get their attention from the beginning, to leave a good impression with the reader so the reader reads on.

As writers, we don't do anything normally. Instead of walking up to our readers and saying, "Hi, I'm So-and-So," we goose them with words—images evoking emotions—and hope they will like the pleasant conversation (story) that follows.

The following are the opening sentences to both newer and older works. Each of these has the Goosed Ya opening, the sentence that immediately causes the reader to want to read the next sentence and the next sentence after that. Can you name the stories that have the following Goosed Ya openings?

1. "Where's papa going with that ax?"
2. "It was a dark and stormy night."
3. "On the whole of dull dark and soundless day in the autumn of the year when the clouds hung oppressively low . . . ."
4. "Call me Ishmael."
5. "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."
6. "Get your hand off my breast!"
7. "The first time I met him?"
8. “Something was about to happen. Nona, Archangel of Nth, could feel it in her bones. She sat on the edge of the cloud strumming her lute and wondering what the day would bring.”
9. "It was a pleasure to burn."

You'll notice that quotes 1, 4, 6, and 8 begin with an action.

Quotes 2 and 7 tell us immediately we're going to be reminiscing. Also, quote 2 is a writer's joke and any writer who has study his craft will recognize the jest Madeleine L'Engle is making.

Quotes 3, 5, and 9 present a specific and interesting scene or person or thought.

Quote 4 not only begins with the action word "Call" but also introduces the main character as well as the entire theme of the work to follow in three words by using a Biblical allusion!

Quote 7 is a question in response to previous question: from whom? The reader, an unknown friend?

Also, quote 8 is an invitation. For whom is the invitation? The reader or a character in the story?


1. Charlotte's Web, E.B. White
2. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle
3. "The Fall of the House of Usher", Edgar A. Poe
4. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling
6. See the end of this blog for the answer to this one.
7. The Greatest Miracle in the World, Og Mandino
8. See the end of this blog for the answer to this one also.
9. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I must admit: as I wrote this blog entry, I couldn't remember the answer to Quote 7. I thought and thought and thought; still, the answer wouldn't come to me.

I remembered the story in its entirety: The opening, the middle, and the end. I have the image of a red rose against a snowy background. An old man teaches a younger man. I remembered the story left me a little sad but wiser and helped to fill a void in my life at that time. I remembered the author's name, did a web search, and then perused the various reviews of his best selling books until I hit upon the book that reminded me of the title to which that particular quote, "The first time I met him?", belonged.

That's the Goosed Ya Factor. I had been so impressed with the opening and then the entire story that I had remembered the story and had forgotten the book and the author.

That's good writing.

The Goosed Ya Factor focuses immediately on the characters and the story to follow not the author and his worldview.

Look at your opening: do you have that Goosed Ya Factor in whatever you're working on now?

Recently, one of my critique partners chided me—correctly, of course—for not having the Goosed Ya Factor in my present novel. In fact, she told me she had gotten to Page Nine before she even knew what the story was about. She was correct of course, and I am grateful for her insight and her patience in sticking with my story through eight pages of protracted purple prose.

I’ve tossed the first eight pages my novel and have rewritten the opening chapter, and I’m quite pleased with the result.

How does your story begin? Thusly?

"The sky was an angry gray that soon turned into a dark frown of rumbling thunder."

That's the author speaking, becoming visible and showing off his ability to type adjectives about the weather and not use his skill to evoke a tell-tale story.

I like storms. I like personification. I even like mixed metaphors when they are presented humorously.

However, I like people more than clouds and thunder and metaphors, and I'd rather read about the angry gray expression and dark frown of a person than get a weather report.

But, I hear you saying, “I’m establishing mood.”

Poe established mood with his weather opening of “The Fall of the House Usher”. Poe was quite popular. Poe will be studied long after we are dead and our scribblings forgotten. But, Poe wrote in the first half of the 19th Century for an audience who spent hours reading, and Poe didn’t compete against television, radio, the Internet, networking, video games, TiVO, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Even Shakespeare expends much stage energy discussing the weather in his plays, especially his tragedies.

However, if Poe and Shakespeare were alive today, they would be different writers—still great writers, but different from their 19th Century and 16th Century personas.

Indeed, they would begin their stories and plays much differently because both Poe and Shakespeare wrote to be read by giving their respective audience what it collectively wanted to read and see.

"Harley Simmons awoke with an angry gray scowl that turned into a dark frown as he turned over to find she was gone again."

The author has just goosed me. My "Ya Just Goosed Me!" curiosity is now aroused. I can imagine all sorts of scenarios to follow, and none are too pleasant, I might say.

Not only am I presented with an immediate conflict that will lead to a future confrontation, but I have been presented with past history as well with the simple addition of the adverb again.

And why is Harley awaking "with an angry gray scowl"? Did he go to bed angry? Did he have a bad dream? Did they have bad sex? Does he naturally wake up angry? Or, did he go to sleep the previous night expecting to wake up to find "her" gone and, therefore, not only has he awaken in a foul mood, we can assume he went to bed in a foul mood and slept in a foul mood and had foul dreams.

Uh-oh. Big trouble brewing.

To be honest, I don't know what happens next. I just made that up as an example of the difference between a meteorologist turned writer and writer who wants to be published by, first and foremost, attracting the attention of an agent or an editor.

Author's Note:

Quote 6: "Get your hand off my breast!" is from one of my short stories called "The Turning Away" and it refers to fried chicken.

Quote 8: “Something was about to happen. Nona, Archangel of Nth, could feel it in her bones. She sat on the edge of the cloud strumming her lute and wondering what the day would bring.”
is from my angel fantasy novel Exaltation.

I know what you're thinking: This guy must think he's really something to include himself among those great authors!

My only reply to your astonished indignation is, Hey, it's my blog!

Until next time: Keep writing.

See you on the bookshelves.

Larry Mike Garmon

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