Give yourself a pat on the back

1 08 2011

I have a theory which I suspect it will be of great interest to budding writers. I’m no mindreader. Nor am I adept in the art of suggestion and mental manipulation, but still, I believe it is possible for authors to write their own reviews through the hands of others.

You heard me right. I believe it is possible to embed within your work subliminal messages which will find their way onto the pages of the broadsheets. All you need to do is place within your work a witty, well-crafted, single sentence, which accurately sums up the entire piece, and which you would happily see at the top of a review.

There’s quite an art to it. It needs to be long enough into the work for the reviewer to have formed at least some basic conclusions, but not so far in that their minds are set already. It needs to be amusing and gripping; a fun, funny, or poignant aphorism that is so memorable that every reviewer will wish they had penned it.

Typically this phenomenon exhibits itself in negative ways; an angry reviewer picks up on a critical or deeply ironic phrase with which to lambast its author. For example, Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece, Waiting for Godot, which opened to mixed reviews. Some loved it, many more hated it. They felt it was abstruse, convoluted and monotonous. And many reviewers found in the mouth of Estragon the perfect line with which to begin their scathing reviews:

“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!”

I wonder if Beckett knew that line would be used against him. I suspect not, otherwise he might have said:

“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s deep!”

Just the other week I went to see a new production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. I dislike Chekhov intensely, and am not overly keen on Andrew Upton’s translations either (he has lulled me to sleep in public on two occasions now), so I was amused to spot the standout line which summed it up for me, when Ranyevskaya declares boldly:

“Don’t waste your time watching plays – I bet it wasn’t funny at all”

Correct. And I needn’t give any more of my time to reviewing it…

Next time you go to the theatre, watch a film, or read a book, ask yourself the question “If I had to extract one line which accurately summarises the whole, what would it be?” It will produce some surprising, profound or at least very amusing results.

My theory is this: If it works on a negative level, why should it not work on a positive one? Why should an author not be able to implant a positive statement, a glowing report, a witticism so clever and flattering that it sways the opinions of the reviewer and makes it into print?

I shall put this theory to test and report back to you after the publication of my forthcoming book Five Stars and a Well Deserved Booker Prize.

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