by John F. Harnish
That’s really the basics of writing fiction. You take your conjured Who, What, When, and Where, then you embellish the stated facts with the twists of How and sprinkle in the speculative Why, to explain the relativity of the facts in the story you’re telling with your creative wordsmithing skills.
Journalists have an acquired advantage when it comes to writing novels because they are accustomed to reporting the facts of the news that makes the story into a compelling read. The details of Who, What, When, and Where are what frame the story, but it’s the juicy dashes of How and Why that makes the meat of the matter sizzle with the full flavor of the whole story.
It’s often been said, Dog Bites Man ain’t news; however, Man Bites Dog is, perhaps, news – you want to know How and Where did the man bite the dog. The reported unusual event begs for an explanation as to Why. Why did the Man bite the dog?
So here are two tail tales for the rest of the biting story.
Saturday afternoon Mark was at the ballpark watching the Phillies in a playoff game. He was captured on a live TV camera with his mouth wide open biting into a hot dog with mustard and lots of onions. Aha, you hooked folks in with an assumption the dog had four legs! Mark eating a ballpark frank on national TV isn’t news except to his family and friends. The details are there, but it’s a so-what story.
However, you’re writing this segment in a novel and there’s no sizzle making Mark a hero – until you add – Mark had just taken the first bite of the frankfurter when the first hitter of the inning hit a high fly ball. Holding the dog in his left hand while watching the flight of the fly, he easily reached out and caught the ball with his right hand. Mark was speechless as he displayed the ball for the camera, taking another bite of the mustard covered dog. His feasting feat made the network news and attracted millions of views on YouTube.
The second sizzler is in the style of creative-nonfiction.
Wolf-dog Aurora was a young pup discovering her full set of canine teeth when there was the first hint of a biting problem. My concern was she’d get so into biting and chewing on things in destructive and painful ways that this would surely become a difficult habit to break. She’s a beautiful husky-lab-chow with a big touch of wolf – meaning she can be very contrary and territorial.
One winter evening we were playing on the rug in the family room when her sharp puppy teeth painfully nipped my index finger – not enough to break my skin, but enough to evoke a very loud “Ouch!!!” Now I’ve always believed that turn-about is fair play, and the way Aurora was positioned I was able to quickly bite the tip of her puppy-dog tail just hard enough to beget a corresponding “Yip!” My “Ouch” and her “Yip” indicated we were communicating effectively on a primal level. From that day on, biting wasn’t a problem, except for a few of her gentle attention getting nibbles on my arm. However, from time to time she’s still prone to chew on shoes – but that’s another story.
No, this Man Bites Dog first-hand report isn’t a fast breaking news item – no video camera captured the moment and it occurred almost 11 years ago – long before YouTube. It does demonstrate, however, how the Who, What, When, and Where can be enhanced to tell the Why and How of solving a common problem in an unusual but direct manner. After all, that’s what telling a good story is really all about. And – it’s very effective for posting online on a pet site, for instance, with your name, website, and book title attributed.
Photo courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski.