Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Favorite Hookers

Hello Sailor.

I love hookers. The world needs more of them. The brassier the better. There’s nothing finer than getting pulled in by a great hooker. Most great novels and stories have them.

What did you think I meant? Oh, please, people, grow up.

I don’t regard myself as novelist yet. I don’t have the attention span for it. I'm a short story writer whose stories occasionally get out of hand and run off into novella country. In recent years writers like Alice Munro, Angela Carter and Joyce Carol Oates have made short stories a respectable occupation again, even as the magazines that showcased them have died off. Short stories by nature are going to have different requirements then a novel, and one is you have a hooker that knows how to grab you and get your attention. It takes thought. Coming into a good hooker is one of life’s great pleasures.

What? You know what I mean. Stop that.

A short story or novel is a series of scenes strung together showing the history of a person or persons struggling with events that should change them. It should be mentally and emotionally nutritious for the reader. It should be done well. Starting with a good hooker. Unh!

Short stories of any genre fall into basically two camps; vignettes and plotted stories. Setting up scenes works a little differently for each. A vignette is typical of the stories of writers like Chekhov or Ray Bradbury. They are insightful little puffs of wind. A window is opened into someone’s life, you get a peek at something and the window is closed. Vignettes are typical of literary fiction. An example of a vignette is Hemingway’s “A Clean Well Lighted Place”. There is a well lighted café in Spain open late at night. An old waiter and a young waiter are closing up and this old man comes in and orders a brandy. While he tosses down brandies, the two waiters talk about him in the corner, and the young one wants him to get lost so he can go home. Finally the old guy leaves and they lock up. Doesn’t sound like much of a story until you read it. Vignettes look easy to write, but like free verse poetry – which in a way is what they are - they’re only easy to write badly. One scene, one main character and a smattering of minor characters. That’s all you’ve got. Most vignettes won’t go past 4000 to 5000 words unless you really have something to say. Vignettes tend to be literary stories and in my opinion take a good command of language or storytelling to pull off well.

Plotted stories are stories that follow classical Aristotelian poetics. Almost all popular fiction going back to cave men sitting around a fire relating a mastodon hunt, are plotted stories. A plotted story has opening scenes with different rules, which set up the plot, middle scenes which set up the ending, and finally the ending. There is a main character, an opponent, rising obstacles and a culminating event. Plotted stories tend to get long.

The opening scene has to carry a lot of weight. The way I was taught, an opening scene should have as many of eleven elements as possible: 1) touch 2) Taste 3) Sight 4) sounds 5) smells 6) Light 7) Location 8) Point of View 9) Time 10) Character 11) Purpose

The character has to have a governing characteristic, some peculiar thing that defines him to the reader. Hemingway’s old man needs a clean well lighted place to sit and toss down brandies. Hamlet thinks too much. Batman has a thing about dressing up as a bat. The opening scene in a plotted story presents a causative situation, some disturbance in the character’s life that gets the story rolling in one direction instead of another. Hemingway’s old man wants to sit and get drunk and the waiters want him to go home.

A hooker is how you convince the reader to skip “Dancing With The Stars” and read your story instead. Its your pick up line. A good hooker should present as many of those eleven elements as artfully as possible. It may be the only chance you’ve got to convince that stranger to give up a little money and spend the night with you, because you can show them a better time that what they’ve got going. “Want to party? See what happens next?”

Hemingway starts off “The Old Man and The Sea” with this line:

. . . He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the gulf stream and he had gone eighty four days now without taking a fish.

Mama, that’s one hard working hooker. In a couple of little brush strokes like a Japanese ink painting, you have the character, the point of view, the location, the governing characteristic, and the causative situation. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.

Here’s one of the most famous one line hookers in modern literature from Garcia-Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude”:

. . . . Many years later as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

I just love that. It makes your head spin. Forget the rules of scene building; here Garcia-Marquez throws all those rules out the window and makes it work. But you have to be really good to do that. Garcia-Marquez is really good.

Here’s an amazing hooker:

. . . . This is the story of a man, one who was never at a loss.

That’s the hooker for “The Odyssey” by Homer. You’ve got POV, and a character with a governing characteristic. All that for fourteen words. What a deal, daddy. How about this one:

. . . . She was so deeply imbedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to believe that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise.

That’s the hooker for “Portnoy’s Complaint” by Phillip Roth, my candidate for funniest novel ever written.

Not all great hookers are confined to one liners. Some of them take a few lines to hit take off speed and then they love you long time. Here is one of the truly great ones, from “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov, regarded by many as the greatest novel of the 20th century. Listen to the language, the rhythm, the bee-bop piano tinkling of consonants. The whole damn novel is like that. Can you imagine? Gee-zus.

. . . Lolita, light of my life, fire of my lions. My sin, my soul. Lo-Lee-Ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

I don’t know how a guy learns to write like that. You can’t beat that. You can’t forget that. I’ll finish this with a really long but really good hooker. This from Elmore Leonard’s “Freaky Deaky”:

. . . . Chris Mantowski’s last day on the job, two in the afternoon, two hours to go, he got a call to dispose of a bomb. What happened, a guy by the name of Booker, a twenty five year old super-dude twice convicted felon, was in his Jacuzzi when the phone rang. He yelled for his body-guard Juicy Mouth to take it. “Hey, Juicy?” His bodyguard, his driver and his houseman were around somewhere. “Will somebody get the phone?” The phone kept ringing. The phone must have rung fifteen times before Booker got out of the Jacuzzi, put on his green satin robe, that matched the emerald pinned to his left earlobe and picked up the phone. Booker said “Who’s this?” A woman’s voice said “You sitting down?” The phone was on a table next to a green leather wingback chair. Booker loved green. He said “Baby is that you?” It sounded like his woman, Moselle. Her voice said, “Are you sitting down? You have to be sitting down for when I tell you something.” Booker said “Baby, you sound different. What’s wrong?” He sat down in the green leather chair, frowning, working his butt around to get comfortable. The woman’s voice said “Are you sitting down?” Booker said “I am. I have sat the fuck down. Now you gonna talk to me, what?” Moselle’s voice said “I’m supposed to tell you that when you get up, honey, what’s left of your ass is gonna go clear through the ceiling.”

You gotta admit - you wish you’d written it.

My hookers still need a lot of work. After all I’ve only been at this off and on for a little while. I’ve gone through a lot of computers and word processors since I started out. I remember I used to have a big Wang. My wife loved taking it out and using it too.

What? What? Oh, grow up. . .


  1. Hey Garce,

    I love the way you've twisted my topic. When I proposed it, I was talking mostly about physical location, but you've expanded the concept of "setting the scene" in a surprising way that seems obvious, now, after you've done it. Sort of like all those wonderful openings - they seem so inevitable, so right, like just about everything Mozart wrote. You wonder not only how did they do that, but also how could they have done anything else?

    Who taught you that an opening should have all those elements? I've never heard that before. Very useful (if a bit intimidating!)


  2. Love your hookers, too!

    To expand the topic, I find it interesting to dissect hooks by audience. The hook intended to sell a book to an agent/publisher versus the hook intended to make a reader keep reading... all the way to the cash register. They're different in some ways, similar in others.

    I just want mine to be memorable. :)

    Great post.

  3. Uh, Garce... fella, buddy... I do believe you got a tad carried away here. That'd be HOOK, not hooker! Sheesh!

    I so agree with you when you say the opening is such a huge thing. I rework mine continually as I write a book. I want that first few pages to be as perfect as I can possibly make it. I want the reader to know what they're getting into, but be unable to turn away.

    Great stuff there.


  4. Hi Lisabet!

    Its true, good openings have an organic quality which is one of the pleasures of reading. I love language. I love it when its handled artfully simple (Hemingway) and gorgeously lyrical (Garcia-Marquez). I love Mark Twain for dialogue, the way he captures the sound of American language, or can make you laugh with the choice of one word. He's a sharpshooter.

    I learned the eleven elements from "Writing the Short Story" by William Thornley which I bought cheap at a yard sale 20 years ago. When I started writing, it was the first book I picked up and it turned out to the be the best and most practical book on short fiction for a beginner I think ever written. Very down to earth, very clear, written for high school students. Sadly, out of print.


  5. Alessia!

    Writing book jacket hookers is an art in itself. Advertising is the poetry of book selling. Same purpose as a story hooker, "Drop what you're doing and party with me. I can show you a better time." I'm still so green I don;t yet know how to write a hooker to present a book to a publisher. I haven't been successful in that area - yet. But I'll get there.


  6. Hey Jude!

    "I do believe you got a tad carried away here. That'd be HOOK, not hooker! Sheesh!"

    No no! I'm right about this. Think about it. "My Favorite Opening Lines." Yawn. "My Favorite Hooks". Its okay I guess. "My Favorite Hookers" What? What did he say? What cracktastic happy horseshit did he say? Hookers? What? What?

    It makes you want to find out. Well, three people anyway. Sigh. Its a start. BUT - the title is a hooker also!

    Such cosmic creaminess. . .


  7. I'm with you on the hookers thing, Garce. Do them right and they blow an audience away. Do 'em wrong, and they suck...

    Okay, now I'm getting carried away.

    I had similar thoughts to yours on setting the scene, when I saw the proposed topic. I hadn't realized Lisabet was just talking about physical locations until I read her comments above! Thank you for covering all of that, and for the great hooker that kicked this article off ;)

  8. Made me giggle, Garce. You have a nice big Hook there, my friend.

    How about this one from Christopher Moore's A Dirty Job:
    "Charlie Asher walked the earth like an ant walks on the surface of water, as if the slightest misstep might send him plummeting through the surface to be sucked to the depths below. Blessed with the Beta Male imagination, he spent much of his life squinting into the future so he might spot ways in which the world was conspiring to kill him - him, his wife, Rachel, and now newborn Sophie. But despite his attention, his paranoia, his ceaseless fretting from the moment Rachel peed a blue stripe on the pregnancy stick to the time they wheeled her into recovery at ST. Francis Memorial, Death slipped in."

    Love the examples you posted and the way you presented them. Thanks once again for some great writing insight.