Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Flopsy and Mopsy

by Mark Danielson

Last week I discussed how words form images. Authors spend hours toiling over each word, just so the reader can skim over them. Some are intentionally ambiguous, while others create vivid images. Good writing avoids adjectives. Well written scenes stand on their own merit.

Eighteen months ago, I was part of a three day author’s cruise called High Jinx on the High Seas. My participation involved discussions on the writing craft, and also promoted my work. While these commitments kept my wife and I from attending many of the ship’s entertainment events, we did see one show that resembled The Newlywed Game—except in this case, you didn’t need to be newly wed. Two adults older than us became willing participants while their grown children watched in horror. The question presented to the elderly-wed was, “Where is the strangest place you’ve made whoopee?” Their answer? Atop two bar stools they called “Flopsy” and “Mopsy.” Needless to say, the audience roared with laughter with everyone eyeing the children’s reaction. Images of that moment still replay in my head; their parents' red faces, and their peculiar answer. To this day, I can’t envision how two bar stools could be positioned for making whoopee – and I have a fairly resourceful imagination.

So, once again the power in words has everyone thinking, though not necessarily the same thing. But that’s the beauty of imagination. Unlike visual presentations, such as movies or TV shows, books allow each reader their own interpretation of the written word. Perhaps this is why people who have read a book are often disappointed in the movie version. It’s also why movie titles warn us it is “based on” the book.

Oh, the cows in the photo? They're just content Kauai cows, and have nothing to do with writing. Sure, call it a cheap prop to lure you into thinking these cows are named Flopsy and Mopsy. Actually, I would have used rabbits, but I didn’t have a good photo of any. Yes, it’s a shameless ploy, but I’m willing to bet that you’ll remember the bar stools over the cows. In fact, the next time you’re sitting on a bar stool, you’ll can't help thinking about “Flopsy” and “Mopsy”, and then your lips will curl into a smile. You can’t help it. That’s the power of words.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I'm smiling, Mark. I'm wondering whether your theory also applies to book titles. I've read some books that had very misleading titles, but I guess all's fair in war and publishing.

Mark W. Danielson said...

The power in words is universal. Misused or misstated, they fail like a lame duck’s presidential address. When properly used, they offer intrigue and insight. The task of any author is to balance humor with somber, delight with horror, love with hate. Some authors are more successful than others.