Thursday, April 7, 2016

Just Sit Right Back

Zestful Blog Post #155

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Today’s post is about writing with economy. Most of us who watched television in the 1960s are still afflicted with old brainworms in the form of theme songs from sitcoms. I can still, after enough gin, sing the complete themes from Gilligan’s Island, the Patty Duke Show, Green Acres, and the Beverly Hillbillies, as well as shards from Petticoat Junction and the Brady Bunch.

Not long ago I read about why the Gilligan’s Island song was written. Sherwood Schwartz, who conceived of the show about a motley group of castaways on a desert island, had trouble convincing TV executives to put it into production. Their main objection was that it would be tedious to recap, during every episode, why and how the people got stuck on the island.

So Schwartz went home and, with composer George Wyle, wrote a theme song that told the story perfectly: “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…” The song rolled through the opening credits, so a first-time viewer would be as savvy as a devotee. The execs’ problem was solved, and they green-lighted the project. The show became such an off-kilter hit, it affected pop culture in multiple ways, from phrases from the song (“a three-hour tour,” for instance, as shorthand for an unexpectedly interminable situation), to Gilligan’s white bucket hat and more.

My favorite phrase from the song: “The ship set ground on the shore of this uncharted desert isle…” It’s brilliant. You learn why nobody’s found them: the island’s not on any maps! Uncharted! One simple word, thrown in fast.

The other sitcom songs achieve the identical objective. My point: All writers can learn from these seemingly stupid songs! Look a few up online, read and listen to them carefully, and perceive all sorts of lessons on how to write with purpose and economy.

Have you ever found a writing lesson in an unexpected place? To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

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  1. You call them brainworms? We call them earwigs, but it's the same thing and now I'll be reluctangly singing Gilligan's Island the rest of the day. But what a perfect example of economy in writing! Thanks!

  2. Oh no...Now I can't stop hearing the Gilligan theme song...with Gilligan, the Skipper too, the Millionaire and his wife, the movie star, the professor and Marianne...
    Well, I guess I wrote enough for today LOL.
    I have found writing lessons just from listening to people talk. For instance, they don't say each other's names much in conversation. We have to put in the name, occasionally, more often than you would hear because the reader can't see the speakers looking at each other if there are more than two or three.
    As usual, another great blog. Thanks.

  3. Ona Marae and BJ, a good antidote song is 'Fame'. Focus on that and it will erase whatever other song is there. And BJ, yeah, simply being a good listener can yield wisdom on many levels!


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