Showing posts with label Winston Churchill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Winston Churchill. Show all posts

05 October 2016

The Way It Wasn't

by Robert Lopresti

A month ago I noticed that my wife was reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  What made that particularly interesting was that I was reading Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters.

Both of them fall into the genre of Alternative History (AH), which is usually considered part of science fiction.  Science fiction, more than most forms of fiction, is all about "What if?" and AH  asks "What if events didn't turn out as they did?"

The oldest example of AH we know of is about 2100 years old.  The Roman author  Livy pondered the question: What if Alexander the Great had gone west (toward the still developing city of Rome) instead of east?

Let's jump ahead past a few medieval examples and land in 1931 when John Squires published  If It Had Happened Otherwise, a collection of essays by different authors, speculating on how various turning points of history could have turned out differently.  One of them, "If Lee Had Not Won At Gettysburg," is a double twist (as you can probably tell), being written from the point of view of a historian in a world in which the South did win the Civil War.  He tries to speculate how things would have turned out if the North had conquered.

You may have heard of the author of that clever essay.  He later won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Winston Churchill was better known for other accomplishments.

You may be surprised that an Englishman like Churchill should have chosen the American Civil War as his subject but that event seems to have an obsessive interest for alternative historians.  Remember those books my wife and I were reading?  Even The New Yorker  recently took note of our country's obsession with the Underground Railroad.

My favorite AH writer is Harry Turtledove and he was inspired to get a PhD in Byzantine History by an AH novel by L. Sprague De Camp called Lest Darkness Fall.  Turtledove's masterpiece is The Guns of the South  (Yup, that War Between the States again).  It starts with a real event: Robert E. Lee writing to Jefferson Davis in 1864 to say the Confederacy could not win.  Except in Turtledove's book the letter is interrupted by some strangers with funny accents who want to sell the South some new weapons called AK-47s.  You see, some Afrikaaners got their hands on a time machine and decided to nip Black aspirations in the bud by saving slavery.

You can argue that that is not pure alternative history since it involves a science fiction concept like time travel.  In that case you might prefer another  Turtledove novel - and it's a mystery! -  The Two Georges, co-written with, of all people, the actor Richard Dreyfuss.  The heroes are cops in the 1960s, but in this world King George III never went mad and when his colonies started protesting his policies he invited the leaders to England to discuss it.  The result is that George Washington became the first Governor-General of British North America.

Some of you may have seen the recent TV series, The Man in the High Castle, which is based (loosely, I hear) on a classic AH novel by Philip K. Dick.  It explores a world in which the Axis beat the Allies.

To my mind, there are two essential elements to an AH fiction: How did things turn out this way (as opposed to the way we know they did)?  And what would happen if they had?  At its best, AH becomes a thought experiment: If Nixon beat Kennedy, how would the sixties have changed?  What if the Spanish Armada had won?

I have had three fantasy stories published and while none of them are pure AH they all, shall we say, partake of its nature.

After George W. Bush became president, Edward J. McFadden III and E. Sedia proposed Jigsaw Nation, a book of stories that asked: What if the blue states seceded from the nation?  My story, "Down in the Corridor," takes place in the  narrow strip of land between Mexico and the Pacific States of America, connecting the USA with the Pacific.   Yes, it's a crime story, but it's not true AH because it was imaging an alternative near future, not a past.  (Recently Andrew MacRae came up with a similar idea for an anthology about post-current events.)

"Letters to the Journal of Experimental History" appeared in a short-lived humor webzine called The Town Drunk.  It's based on the multi-verse theory of time travel; that is, if you go back in time and, say, kill Hitler, it doesn't change our universe, it merely kickstarts a new one.  You can read it here.

And then there is "Street of the Dead House," which appeared in nEvermore! (and has been reprinted in Best American Mystery Stories 2016 and Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2016, he said modestly.)  This one is Alternative Literature, reinterpreting (without changing) a classic Edgar Allan Poe story.

Anyone out there like this genre?  If so, tell me your favorites.










07 July 2015

Suspense the Hard Way: Writing Suspense Stories When You Already Know the Outcome

by Paul D. Marks

In early June, I attended the California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City in the LA area. I was on a panel called Thrills and Chills. The panel’s topic was suspense, how to create it, sustain it, etc. Many good points were made by my fellow panelists, D.P. Lyle, Craig Faustus Buck, Laurie Stevens, Diana Gould, moderator, and I hope by me too. Being on that panel got me thinking about what defines suspense? Is it a cliffhanger? A surprise ending? A reversal? A twist? All of which is part of it. Or is there something else? But I’ll leave the micro mechanics of suspense writing for another time. What I want to talk about here is a certain type of suspense/thriller that’s based on real events and/or people.

Thrills and Chills Panel CCWC  -- 6-2015 -- d3

When one’s writing a fictional story with fictional characters it’s one thing. It’s another thing completely when you’re writing a story based on a real character or characters and situations, because, if the reader is halfway literate (which is getting more and more iffy all the time), they will know the outcome of the story before they read the first word.

Some cases in point:

jackal 1aMy favorite example of this is The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth. The book came out in 1971, about a year after Charles de Gaulle died. It’s a suspense-thriller about an attempt to assassinate de Gaulle in the early 1960s. I remember reading the book when it came out, turning page after page. Sneaking a read here and there because it kept me so engrossed. And I knew how it would end. At least I knew de Gaulle would not be assassinated, because I knew that in real life he wasn’t murdered. So the incredible thing about that book for me is how the author kept me, and others, interested when we knew the outcome. An amazing feat. And how he had us rooting for the Jackal to succeed, even though we knew he wouldn’t, and even if in real life we wouldn’t have wanted that.

In The Eagle Has Landed, Jack Higgins’ thriller, Nazi commandos allied with Irish revolutionaries attempt to kidnap British Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II. Complications ensue. But once again, we know the outcome in real life: Churchill was never kidnapped. Still, Higgins manages to keep our attention and keep us guessing—will they succeed? Or is this an alternate history with a totally different outcome from what really happened?

And my wife and I just recently watched Bugsy again, the Warren Beatty movie about the notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel. Again we knew the ending. We knew he got murdered, we knew pretty much the how and why, at least according to the movie. Yet still we were glued to the screen. (And as a side note, I grew up across the street from Bugsy’s brother, a doctor—and his family—who Bugsy put through medical school.)

A couple other movies that come to mind are an oldie but goodie, Manhunt, with Walter Pigeon, and Valkyrie-2008-BluRay-postera newer flick, Valkyrie, with Tom Cruise. Both are about plots to assassinate Hitler, and if anyone deserved it, well..., but I digress. Manhunt is a fictional story, to my knowledge, and, as it was made in 1941, World War II was still going strong. So who knew at that time, maybe a plot to kill Hitler was going to happen? But the fact is the story is fiction, and Hitler was still alive and kickin’ when the movie came out. So people watching it then knew the ending wasn’t going to work out, at least not when the movie was released. But somehow the suspense worked and you are sucked into believing it. Valkyrie, based on a true story, came out in 2008, so everybody knew, well almost everybody, well maybe nearly almost everybody, well maybe a handful of people knew, that Hitler hadn’t actually been assassinated. But again the story was like a roller coaster ride at Magic Mountain. You were still rooting for the conspirators to kill Hitler and to get away with their lives even when you knew they wouldn’t. There’s also Argo, with Ben Affleck, and we knew the outcome there too, but were still on the edge of our seats, waiting to see if that group of people would get out of Iran alive.

So how do these authors and filmmakers keep us interested and involved when we already know the outcome?
Alfred-Hitchcock-227x300
“There is a distinct difference between ‘suspense’ and ‘surprise,’ and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean.
We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let's suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, "Boom!" There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’
In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”
From: Hitchcock
By Francois Truffaut, Alfred Hitchcock

The suspense comes from empathizing with the characters, wanting them to get away or even succeed, even if you know they can’t/won’t and even if they’re anti-heroes or badguys. You want them to come out of it alive. Since you know from the get-go that the mission fails, you have a sense of suspense in hoping the character won’t be injured and will get away in the end. We’re also interested in the how of it—the how-dun-it? How do they plan to achieve their aim of killing de Gaulle or Hitler or kidnapping Churchill?
Also, like the ticking bomb in Hitchcock’s example of suspense (see sidebar), the reader knows they’re going to fail so you’re watching them run towards the “ticking timebomb,” hoping they’ll escape before it’s too late. But with Day of the Jackal, also what makes the reader want the killer to succeed? Isn’t he a “bad guy”. Why don’t you want the other characters to succeed in catching him?

So how does a writer achieve this? A full answer would probably take a book, but briefly: Initially you might not be rooting for the anti-hero. But as the author introduces you to the character and his/her goal you might start identifying with them and their mission. And even though you know their mission is a bad one, like kidnapping Churchill that might have changed the outcome of the war, you still feel a sense of suspense in wanting them to either get caught or succeed. It’s not because you identify with the Nazis per se, but you identify with these individuals and their efforts to achieve their goal or you’re hoping like hell that they won’t. And just like with any other character, the author puts them in jeopardy and puts obstacles in their way so the reader wonders whether or not they’ll get out of it. Also, sometimes villains can be charming or tough or cool. We admire their skill and caginess and we want to live vicariously through them and their adventures.

Sometimes the outcome isn’t the most important part of a story. It’s the ride getting there. So, while a spectacular ending may be good in some books, for some it is more important to build great characters and suspense and not rely on a surprise ending to leave the reader with a good feeling. In a way you have to work harder on the meat of the story when readers already know the outcome, but it is one way you can really distinguish a writer who is a master of suspense—when they can still build suspense with a known outcome.

So sometimes suspense isn’t just about the surprise ending or the unexpected, sometimes it’s about knowing what’s going to happen but wanting something different to happen and how that in itself can create tension, suspense and a great ride along the way.

***

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23 December 2013

Hanging In, Hanging Out, Hanging On

by Fran Rizer



I'm certain someone taught you all about prepositions long ago, but this cartoon caught my eye, and I decided that would be my topic today.  Rather than make this seem like a lesson, I've written an exercise to see how much you remember from those old school days. Please decide on your answers before going to the bottom to check them.   


QUESTIONS

1.  What's the difference between a preposition and a proposition?

2.  Who recorded "The Preposition Song"?  Why is it called that?

3.  Who is credited with coining the rule that writers shouldn't end sentences with prepositions?




4.  What word should "of" never replace?

5.  What preposition should be used with the word "different"?

6.  Who responded to an editor's demand that a sentence be        reworded because it ended with a preposition with this statement:
"This is the sort of English up with which I cannot put"?

ANSWERS

1. A preposition shows a relationship while a proposition sometimes starts a relationship.
Tanya Tucker

2.  Tanya Tucker recorded "Hanging In."  The hook for the chorus is "Hanging in, hanging out, hanging on."

3. John Dryden, a seventeenth century poet, is credited with the rule against ending a sentence with a preposition.  Throughout history, writers have sometimes broken this rule.  Sometimes the preposition at the end of a sentence is needed while at other times, it is unnecessary and incorrect.
John Dryden

Examples:  Where is the dog? Correct.  Where is the dog at? Incorrect.
That is something I cannot agree with. Correct.
Which team are you on?  Correct.  Note that Which team are you? changes the meaning. 

4.  "Of" should never replace "have." 
Example:  I should have known he would do that.  Correct.
I should of known he would do that. Incorrect. 

5.  Grammatically correct according to text books is the phrase "different from," but that's a frequent error made by many speakers and writers who use "different than."
Winston Churchill

6.  That sentence is attributed to Sir Winston Churchill.

BONUS QUESTION 1
What's wrong with the answer to question two?

BONUS QUESTION 2 (Multiple Choice)
Which is proper?
(A) between you and I
(B) between you and me
(C) between me and you


BONUS QUESTION 1 ANSWER
In the answer to question 2, the "in," "out," and "on" aren't used as prepositions.  They're are all used as adverbs modifying "hanging."

BONUS QUESTION 2 ANSWER
Many people say or write (A) between you and I.  For some reason, they think "I" sounds "more proper."  (A) is incorrect. 

Even more people, who don't care if they're proper or not, use (C) between me and you.  (C) is incorrect because grammatically "you" is named before the speaker.  

The correct answer is (B) between you and me because between is a preposition and the correct usage is to follow a preposition with the objective case of a pronoun, which is "me," while "I is the subjective case.

A personal question from me to you... I hope I haven't insulted anyone with these questions.  I'm sure all of our readers and writers made a perfect score. Now I have a question that I'd really like every one of you to answer through comments.

DO YOU STAND IN LINE OR ON LINE?

In the South, we stand in line to wait for something.  We tell children, "Please get in line," but many non-southerners say, "I had to stand on line to get the tickets."

What do you say and can anyone find a definitive answer whether in line is correct or on line?

Until we meet again, take care of … you!

24 April 2012

Paraprosdokia

by Dale C. Andrews
 
    A hallowed device in the mystery writer’s lexicon is the twist ending – an unexpected event that throws all that has preceded it into a different light.  As kids we all loved the Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and our adult lives have often been spent grumbling over the fact that so many of the great twist endings were used while we were still in grade school. (Dammit, I could have written that story about the frozen leg of lamb!)  The twist ending is not relegated solely to novels or short stories; it also exists in more minimalistic surrounds as the paraprosdokian.

    I knew the device long before I knew the device’s name.  "Paraprosdokian" comes from Greek "παρά", meaning "against" and "προσδοκία", meaning "expectation."  A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech used to describe an observation, framed in a phrase or a sentence or sentences, in which the ending is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader to reframe or reinterpret the observation as a whole.  A classic example is:  “I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather; not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car.”  Another is:  “The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it’s still on the list.”

    Sometimes the basis for a paraprosdokian relies on a word that can have two meanings.  Generally these can be completed with the phrase “you can say that again.” 
  • Prime Minister:  “Your highness, the peasants are revolting.”  King:  “You can say that again.”
  • Wife:  “You have to admit that my parents are trying.”  Husband:  “You can say that again.”
  
Will Rogers
     Paraprosdokia are particularly popular among satirists. Tom Lehrer (who turned 84 last week), introduced a song with reference to his college roommate who he described as having“majored in animal husbandry . . . until they caught him at it.”  And Mort Sahl (who turns 85 next month) once observed “my right is your left, which is increasingly becoming the problem in this country.”  Will Rogers also used the device – “I belong to no organized political party.  I am a Democrat.”  Rogers also said that “Ohio claims they are due a president as they haven't had one since Taft.  Look at the United States, they have not had one since Lincoln.”  (That quote apparently pre-dates the election of Warren Harding, which shows that Ohio should be careful what it wishes for.)

   Among politicians, Winston Churchill was probably best known for relying on paraprosdokia to make a point.  Among his classic observations are:

  • There but for the grace of God -- goes God.
  • A modest man, who has much to be modest about.  
  • If you are going through hell, keep going.
  •  It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.
  • You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else.
    Probably the consummate expert in Paraprosdokia was Groucho Marx.  At one time or another Groucho uttered all of the following:  
  • I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it.
  • Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.  (This one gets my "best in show" award!)
  • Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
  • When you're in jail, a good friend will be trying to bail you out. A best friend will be in the cell next to you saying, 'Damn, that was fun.’
  • From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend on reading it.
  • The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made.
  •  I have nothing but respect for you -- and not much of that.
  • She got her looks from her father. He's a plastic surgeon.
    Groucho advanced the art form even further, at times combining paraprosdokia with outrageous puns.  Examples include:
  • For that act alone the defendant should get ten years in Levenworth, or eleven years in twelveworth, or five and ten in the Woolworth.
  • Get out of my life.  You can leave in a taxi and if you can’t find a taxi you can leave in a huff.  And if you need more time, make it a minute and a huff.
  • When love comes in the door, money flies out the innuendo.
    A spin through the internet uncovers many other unattributed examples of this engaging figure of speech. (Some of these examples stray a bit from the paraprosdokian formula, but what the hey -- they are funny!)
  • I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.
  • Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.
  • Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.
  • Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
  • If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong.
  • War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
  • Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
  • Evening news is where they begin with 'Good evening' and then proceed to demonstrate why it isn't.
  • How is it one careless match can start a forest fire, but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?
  • Why is it wrong to use a handicapped parking space but all right to use a handicapped bathroom stall?
  • I didn't say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you.
  • Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?
  • In totalitarian countries there is complete freedom of speech – you can say anything that you want to.  Once.
  • When tempted to fight fire with fire, remember that the Fire Department usually uses water.
  • When tempted to “split the baby,” remember that this was precisely what Solomon avoided doing.
  • To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.
  • Life isn’t what it used to be.  And it never was.
  • Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.
    Having spun all of this into an article, I suppose the best way to close is with one last paraprosdokian that sums up the writing process for this piece:

                To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.

(Be sure to click the link for a rousing send-off!)