The comics section is my favorite part of any newspaper. Oh, yes, I keep up with local, national, and world reports in other media. By the time the newspaper covers a story, I’ve already been there, done that. But the comics is where I go to detox from the sad state of reality. Or swallow it with a bit of satire and strong coffee.
When the alarm clock rings, I tumble out of bed, into the “Jumble.” No, that’s not a Tai-Chi routine to force my limbs into some semblance of proper functioning. “Jumble” is Hoyt’s and Knurek’s word scramble that yields clues to solve the incomplete sentence posed by the cartoon.
Since playing with words is my business, I usually sail through the first clues in a few seconds then focus on unscrambling the answer to the picture clues. There, thanks to my punny sense of humor being on par with that of the strip’s creators, the answer is often immediately apparent. However, if the final clue involves sports, forget it. I don’t speak “sports.” Not since the Dodgers left Brooklyn and “sports” management became as morally suspect as Machiavelli’s The Prince, or The Art of Certain Deals.
On Sundays, from the “Jumble” I flip to the visual acuity tests. In one, you must find the six differences between two seemingly different scenes. In another, you pick the one scene that differs from the other two, and move on to help Slylock Fox solve a woodlands crime. Yes, these are ostensibly for kids, but since I am in my second childhood (never really left it) I feel a retrospective sense of peace. It’s 1950-something, Mom and Dad are downstairs in the kitchen, and all’s right with the world.
And, while fun, such acuity tests are a reminder that things are not always what they seem. You cannot look at anything with someone else’s eyes. You MUST dig for the truth yourself, or the world will fall into a sorry state. Oh, wait. Right. We’re already there, but it’s not too late to redeem ourselves!
“Aren’t many comic strips often vehicles for political satire?” Sure, and done with a little humor (okay, sarcasm, maybe) they bring a chuckle or a groan. They make you think. Or they should. But at least comics aren’t as acerbic or poisonous as what comes from a political campaign. Except for a certain ugly duck ‘toon character I’d gladly roast and serve a l’orange, along with his ham of a creator.
“There are other programs to improve mental functioning, yes?” Of course, there are many sophisticated mental gymnastics to which one can subscribe. I’m not saying that moving up a notch is meritless, but why not make it a morning routine to digest brain food with ham and eggs?
You’re about to ask what this has to do with writing! (Gotcha!) Consider how you solved visual puzzles. Metaphorically speaking, turn your work upside down or on its sides to reveal another perspective. Put it aside and return with a clearer point of view. Read it aloud to others. Are they hearing what you intended? Do you need to rewrite for clarity?
What about word jumble puzzles? When they don’t work at first glance, I write the letters on scrap paper, tear them apart and put all the vowels in the middle, surrounded by consonants. Then I work from outside in and inside out until the A-ha! moment strikes. You can do this with sentences, paragraphs, and whole scenes in your writing.
A scene that’s going nowhere? Maybe the sequence of events is fine, but it needs a twist. Turn it upside down, left-to-right, backward. Use “What if. . .” scenarios. What if Jane marries Frank? What if she just lives with him? What if she cheats on him, or he cheats on her? Where does your story go from there? Remember choose-your-own-ending stories so popular with kids before the electronics boom? Those stories taught children there was more than one way a problem might work out. (Congress, are you listening?)
Still stuck? Bring your baby to your critique group for a different perspective. (You DO belong to one, yes?) Listen to their often Solomon-like wisdom. They’ll be happy to help you to “. . .train up your child in the way (s)he should grow. . . ” and get you to your A-ha! moment.
And dig into the comics. It’s fun.