Thursday, January 03, 2013


I love gambits in storytelling, the way the better writers hook you in right away with an interesting beginning. Lesser writers liked to start with something blunt and stylized like, "Bang! The roscoe barked kerchow and lead creased my thinktank," or a keep 'em guessing/Who's Wally-type ploy like, "The caper went off without a hitch except that Wally got plugged."

James M. Cain was more subtle. He starts "Cigarette Girl" with: "I'd never so much as laid eyes on her before going into the Here's How, a night-club on Route one..." I wouldn't say that beginning is good enough to memorize, but I do like it. It starts with the promise of a love story, which is the kind of adventure most people can relate to, then ups the ante with "...the Here's How, a night-club on route one." The club has a primal name and is located in an island of light on a dark highway. You get the feeling that destiny is waiting for you in a place like that. 

Actually the opening takes a whole two pages to unravel. Read them (below) and see what you think.

I love the idea that she declines to take the tip, not "refuses" mind you, just declines. This girl has class. So does the guy who's hot for her. The bartender gets in his way and our guy respects that. After all, the bartender's just trying to protect her. He doesn't order horny guy out, but asks questions about his background. Everybody in this intro seems to be a nice guy, doing his duty.

 The villain hasn't entered yet, but we feel his presence and we already fear him. The people we've met are people with backbone, who wouldn't cave in to an ordinary bully. Whoever this mean guy is, he must be something special, something unusual. 

Cain sets up his good vs. evil theme with hints. He provokes you to use your intuition. The atmosphere becomes magical in the sense that mysterious forces we've never encountered before seem to be converging on this place. 

Interesting, huh?


Brubaker said...

Hey Uncle Eddie,

I know you like to examine humorous drawings and analyze them, so I thought I share this one that I just scanned from a book, mainly because it's just so out there:

The title is "Gesundheit" and it was drawn by Berke Breathed in 1973, as part of a 10th grade art assignment.

The "effect" was achieved by filling his mouth with red paint and blowing it onto the paper. Upon showing it to his art teacher, she said "It's awful. You're going to be rich."

Berke Breathed went on to draw a newspaper comic strip "Bloom County". Breathed claims that the above art is the first time he has ever drawn a cartoon.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Brubaker: Aaaargh! It's not really my taste!