Monday, March 12, 2007

Want to Watch a Book?

By Florence Cardinal

When I was a kid back in the forties, we didn't have TV - not even the old grainy black and white variety. And movies? Dad was a farmer, trying to scratch out a living on a quarter section of land. We were still suffering from the ravages of the Great Depression. Movies were a luxury. If I got to see an afternoon matinee once a month during the summer, I considered myself lucky.

What we did have, though, was the radio, a big old monster of a thing that stood in a corner of the living room and drew its power from a car battery. Most nights, that's where you'd find us, gathered around the living room, watching the radio.

And watch it we did. I don't mean we literally stared at it, though some of us did. What I meant is that we "watched" the stories in our imaginations. My favorite spot was lying on the rug with my eyes closed.

"Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" That show sent shivers down my back. I could see, in my mind's eye, this dark figure lurking in the shadows. When Inner Sanctum came on the air with its eerie music, I "saw" that creaking door slowly opening.

Other shows I remember - the Lux Radio Theater with everything from mysteries to comedies to light-hearted or sometimes tragic romances, even westerns rife with six shooters and hoof beats. Radio City Playhouse had one show you would all have loved -Theatre Of Romance, with plays like Lost Horizon and Seventh Heaven and Magnificent Obsession.

You're probably wondering what old time radio shows have to do with writing. The point is, we "watched" those shows. We actually saw the action taking place in our imaginations. Except for a few minor sound effects, all we heard were words - most of that dialogue, but it was enough to get the story across, and vividly.

Nowadays, we have television, where we see the images as well as hear the words. The problem with television is we are all forced to see the same picture. Listening to the radio, when the handsome hero burst onto the scene, some saw him as tall with dark eyes and long curling ebony hair. Others picture him as blond, blue-eyed and stocky. The same with the heroine, or the scenery or even the interior of a building. Every person had his or her own vision.

We are writers. Our mission is to do with the words in our book what the old time radio shows did. Give the readers just enough of the picture to set their imaginations on fire. A brief description of a character is better than a two-page essay on his hair and eyes and the way he wears his shirt. If you lead readers into a castle, it's not necessary to take them on a room by room tour. You're using the place as a setting, after all, not trying to sell it.

What I'm trying to get across with all this is that we don't have a television screen to show readers what they should see. We have more. We have our words and their imaginations - and that should be more than enough to make our books come alive.

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