Wick Communications

Making music with quotes

In Writing techniques on 2 Dec 2011 at 9:38 am

One of my favorite Wick stories of recent weeks is Lance Nixon’s story of a Lakota artist named Leonard Yellow Horse who discovered a denuded tree trunk and saw a buffalo war dancer in its place.

OK, I admit it. I’m predisposed to be intrigued by a story that quotes someone named Yellow Horse. As a Californian, I find tales of the Great Plains and its people rather exotic.

Of course, Lance doesn’t have that advantage with regular readers of the Capital Journal in Pierre, S.D. It’s not enough to throw out an Indian name and figure readers will gallop along on the strength of a vague interest in things Native American.

So Lance propelled his story with meaningful quotes. He saved a particularly sweet nugget for the kicker. …The kicker is so important to a story, I think, that I named this blog in its honor. There are several ways to go about rewarding a reader for sticking it out to the end, but perhaps the most popular technique is saving a winning quote for last. Here’s what Lance gave his readers on Nov. 14:

“My carvings are based on my people, my ancestors. It’s like my people talk through my hands and through the wood to me,” Yellow Horse said. “If I go into the trees, I hear Indian music, and it’s just the wind. Who knows how that works.”

That quote is a certain kind of music. One reason it works is that it sounds like a direct quote, not something massaged into place by a writer. You can almost see Yellow Horse as he utters that last line with a sly grin. (By the way, we debated that last sentence — “Who knows how that works” — a bit in my office. Do you think it requires a question mark? We decided it’s more of a declarative and not really a question.)

If you have a story with an articulate subject like Yellow Horse, and many good quotes, think about holding one for the end. It might make beautiful music down there.




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