Yesterday, I posted a blog about list openings by a few writers who use the technique well to create a mood early. If you haven’t made your way through that blog yet, go back and treat yourself!
Today, there is no new “Try this.” Today, I want to show you another LONG list example I didn’t want to cram into yesterday’s post. The feeling he creates in his readers through a list opening is one of UNCERTAINTY. So without any further delay, here is Louis Menand, educating us about how we don’t know what we think we know, in his article “Notable Quotables,” in The New Yorker :
Sherlock Holmes never said “Elementary, my dear Watson.” Neither Ingrid Bergman nor anyone else in Casablanca says “Play it again, Sam” ; Leo Durocher did not say “Nice guys finish last”; Vince Lombardi did say “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” quite often, but he got the line from someone else. Patrick Henry almost certainly did not say “Give me liberty, or give me death!”; William Tecumseh Sherman never wrote the words “War is hell”; and there is no evidence that Horace Greeley said “Go west, young man.” Marie Antoinette did not say “Let them eat cake”; Hermann Goring did not say “When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my gun”; and Muhammed Ali did not say “No Vietcong ever called me nigger.” Gordon Gekko, the character played by Michael Douglas in Wall Street, does not say “Greed is good”; James Cagney never says “You dirty rat” in any of his films; and no movie actor, including Charles Boyer, ever said “Come with me to the Casbah.” Many of the phrases for which Winston Churchill is famous he adapted from the phrases of other people, and when Yogi Berra said “I didn’t really say everything I said” he was correct.
So what? Why should we care? Quotable quotes are coins rubbed smooth by circulation…
Now that is one LONG list for a lead paragraph, but the effect is obvious–it makes readers question what they THINK they know (like those song lyrics you THOUGHT you heard, but kind of invented unknowingly?). In any case, that’s all I have to spew for the moment about the list opening–make it another tool in your toolbox, and join me tomorrow for another writing strategy . . .