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80 Years Ago

Archives 07-05-2000

North County Lines by Bob

An Award Winning Column

For comments or questions contact Bob at bobncl@hotmail.com



Come closer and I'll tell you a secret. Writers who begin a story with It was or It is or any other form of it aren't really writers. They only think they are.

Several weeks ago, I examined the stories in a free newspaper. Four began with it in one form or another.

To reconfirm my certainty that good stories don't begin with it, I read each story, no easy task.

Paragraph transitions were sloppy. No continuity. Nothing to pull the reader along. No punch to propel the story. Roadblocks everywhere, often in the form of adjectives and adverbs.

If the verbs don't hammer home the nouns, adding adjectives and adverbs won't help.

While thumbing through another newspaper, I found a story that began, "It was raining outside."

Talk about confusion. What was the it? Where was the it? How did the it get to wherever it was? Why was the it there? Why use outside to describe where the rain was? Could the rain be inside? If so, where was the roof?

Near the end of the story, cough, cough, puke, puke, the person responsible for the mess had written "I personally believe that things will get better."

I'm not being overly critical when I say everyone who uses personally, written or spoken, should be forced to eat the contents of a vacuum cleaner bag.

Personally is a useless word. Anything a person does is done personally. Personally implies that a person can think or behave impersonally. "I impersonally believe that things will get better." If impersonally doesn't fit, neither does personally.

If I wanted to be picky, I could say a better way to write the sentence after removing personally is "I believe things will improve. Eight words reduced to five.

I could go a step further and toss out that wishy washy I believe. "Things will improve." A simple, straightforward, declarative sentence. No doubt about what will happen. Five words that say less reduced to three words that say more.

Good writers are like good carpenters. They know what size nails to drive where for the best support.

What makes a good writer? Every good writer I know began reading at a young age.

I could read before starting first grade. I had developed language skills by reading the Bible, comic books, and cartoons in newspapers.

Good writing abounds in the Old Testament, like Psalms 58, verses 1 and 2: "Justice? You high and mighty politicians don't even know the meaning of the word! Fairness? Which of you has any left? Not one! All your dealings are crooked. You give justice in exchange for bribes."

An apt description of today's political climate written centuries ago. Some things never change.

Red Rider was my favorite comic book hero. He could slap leather faster than any desperado in the west. He could fight and ride and shoot out a rattlesnake's eyes at a thousand feet. He always got the girl. But in the end, he rode off into the sunset, leaving her behind.

After getting my first BB gun, I practiced and practiced until I became as good as the Red Rider. One day I shot all the pins off the clothes line. Maybe I could tell Mom now what I did then without getting into trouble. But I wouldn't count on it. My favorite comic strip was Peanuts.

My favorite character was Charlie Brown. His father was a barber. So was mine.

I loved being in Dad's shop. The smell of hair tonic and shaving lotion. Watching Dad sharpen a razor on a leather strap. Listening to the men talking. Hearing all the important news long before it appeared in the newspaper.

Knowing about the Dixie cups and the bottle of Wild Turkey in the back room for any customer who wanted a nip made me feel big. I knew what was going on and Dad knew I knew what was going on. But we both pretended I didn't. An unspoken secret shared by Dad and me.

I miss Dad's barbershop. I miss Dad.

Learning to read at a young age unlocks an imagination that might otherwise be snuffed out by those who think fitting into the norm is important, by those who want others to sink to their level and remain there.

An eagle that hangs around turkeys will never realize its true identify, unless it opens its wings and flies away. But the turkeys wouldn't like that. To hell with the turkeys.

Writing well requires writing while the turkeys are discussing writing at writing conferences. Talking about writing is like talking about flying. You'll never understand what it's about until you stop talking, lift off, and leave the turkeys behind.

Writing well requires rewriting again and again. Unlike eagles, turkeys are too lazy to rewrite. They don't care if every other sentence begins with there and the meaning, if any, is lost in a mire of unnecessary words.

Writing well requires clear thinking and a wild mind. I would say more about that. But I have to stop now and put a tarp over my computer. It's raining inside.



Overton County News
415 West Main Street
P.O. Box 479
Livingston, Tennessee 38570
tel 931.823.6485
fax 931.823.6486

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