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Use the Unusual

As writers, we work incessantly to find the perfect hook to grab an audience. We fine tune our first chapter until we can quote it verbatim. But…once we’ve hooked them, we must keep their attention for hours on end.

Fine-tuned prose, exciting characters and interesting settings are vital for an author’s success. The push-pull of challenges and decisions of said characters take our readers on a roller-coaster ride as they turn pages to see what happens next. They are expecting the end of the book to be as powerful as the beginning, so we write on, striving to create a story to delight the masses.

In our information overloaded society, we must accept the challenge to include interesting facts in our manuscripts to keep them captivated. An additional tool to accomplish this task is to use the unusual. With extra effort while researching our subject or setting combined with personal experiences, unusual material will occasionally rise to the surface. When you immerse yourself into a culture, if you listen and ask questions you’ll glean nuggets to spice up your work in progress.

Allow me to give a personal example. As a missionary to Africa, we shipped a twenty foot container of supplies to use in our ministry the ten years we were in Kenya. The container left our front yard in Hendersonville, Tennessee on a truck that took it to the ship yards in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, it was hoisted into the air by a crane and loaded onto a ship. It left the port, traveling through the Gulf of Mexico, across the Atlantic Ocean, around the southern tip of Africa and up the coast to Mombasa, Kenya.

I made the long trip via British Air with my family. We lived out of our suitcases while studying Swahili. Weeks passed, then months. Daily, my husband checked the local newspaper for a notice that our ship had come into port. The day the name of our ship was listed on the manifest, we celebrated. Our ship had come in!

This experience gave me a new appreciation for phrases we speak that have double meanings. We use the phrase “when my ship comes in’ to mean when something good comes my way, like a windfall of money or good fortune. But, the original meaning became my reality while we waited for our belongings.

Once we provided documentations at customs, our container was lifted off the ship via a crane, placed on a train and taken to Nairobi. Upon arrival, it was lifted off the train and put on a lorry, a large truck, and driven three hours to our home. The process of unloading was done with haste so the truck could deliver another container to another missionary family.

Another unusual phrase is ‘Burr under my saddle,’ used by cowboys, ‘knickers in a knot,’ is used in Britain, and ‘panties in a wad’ is used in the American South. All three phrases don’t mean what they say. They mean to get upset over something trivial.

These double meanings provide opportunities for twists, turns, misunderstandings and make-up scenes that entertain the page turner. The quirks and nuances that can be created from this chaos gives us a kaleidoscope of material to piece together into an amazing work of art, called a manuscript.

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