Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Writing it straight to the point

When it comes to writing I have a split personality. I'm a reporter when writing non-fiction. With fiction I consider myself a pulp writer. That may put a lie to the split personality idea because both styles are blunt, get to the point methods of telling a story.
In reporting I detest "new journalism" that supposedly makes a story personal. I don't give a damn when I read, "Councilman Joe Blow sat quietly on the porch staring across the cornfield to the woods beyond." So what? Who cares?
The wire service lead is better. "The wife and two young daughters of Councilman Joe Blow were killed Wednesday morning in a one-car crash on Front Street south of Chestnut." That's the story, not the fact that Joe is sorry about it. No need to tell readers he's sad. They'll figure that out themselves.
In fiction I prefer descriptions without frills. The style of a woman's dress, the color of the carpet, the pictures on the wall mean nothing unless they move the story forward. Everyone has seen a sunset. Readers don't need to be told what one looks like. "He was tall with a receding chin and prominent adam's apple" is enough to tell what a man looks like unless the color of his eyes or hair somehow advance the story.
Every writer breaks his own rules at times. When he does, there's a reason for it. If there isn't, he's just rambling and boring readers. An old rule tells us to leave out the part readers skim or skip.
I was lucky because my formative years were spent in a gritty neighborhood where life was seen from close up and there was a store selling nothing but used pulp magazines. Thousands of them covering every topic. Two cents per magazine, only a penny if you turned one in when you entered. I tried them all because I kept a dozen or so on hand and read a couple every week. My favorites were Black Mask, Dime Detective, Flying Aces and G-8 and His Battle Acres. World War dogfights over France and death on the mean streets, those were my bread and butter.
Murder still is. Love is boring, fantasy is the same, no imaginary horror equals that found in real life. So in fiction I write noir and hard-boiled stories like I read all those years ago. I found good teachers in those pulpwood pages: Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Woolrich, many others. They said hook 'em early, skip the frills, keep it moving. Like city editors expected the story to be told in the lead graph so it was still there if everything else had to be cut. Get to the point, that was what they taught me to do.


Blogger Robert Lopresti said...

Good piece.

Your comment about sticking to the point of the story reminded me of the wonderful book A Not Entirely Benign Procedure, by Perri Klass, about her years as a medical student.

She tells a hilarious story about doctors examining an infant they feared had a dangerous illness. The baby's diaper filled up while they were examining it and the doctors, all too important to do such a menial task as changing it, ignored the stink until they were done.

Klass told the story at a party as an example of how egotistical and self-centered doctors were. A listener then said: "So finish the story. WAS THE BABY ALL RIGHT?"

Oh, yes. Medicine is about the patient, isn't it? The baby was fine.

11:55 AM  

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