FUSION JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2010
Glenn’s Take on the Magic of Words
Picture this scene in your mind…
You’re lying on a big wool blanket in front of a stone fireplace, the flames dancing softly over the logs. The smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies begins creeping through the house, competing for your attention with the sounds of footsteps and laughter from the kids upstairs. As the kids melodic voices begin to fade, the green and orange flames take their cue and slowly begin to settle into the charred wood below.
Were you able to see that? Did you feel the warmth of the fire, smell the cookies and hear the kids laughing? If so, then you just experienced the amazing power of words to engage the imagination.
When strung together properly, words seem to unleash an almost magical property. How else can you explain why simple arrangements of letters can make people laugh or cry; inspire them, educate them, or even frighten them?
It’s simple: words are magic.
As a child, my mother would often tell me to turn the television off. One night, tired of being forced to stop watching my favorite show, I retorted, “So you got to watch TV when you were a kid, but I can’t?”
“No,” she responded. “We didn’t have television, we had radio.”
I was stunned. No television? How could you live without television? How boring! But then my mom began to describe how she would sit in the living room at night with her parents, staring at a big old radio, its tuning knob glowing in the darkness. She talked about how the broadcasters would tell stories so vividly that it was like she was there. She explained how that glowing knob was like a window to a world more extraordinary than anything that exists in real life.
On my eighth birthday, my mother bought me a “Golden Years of Radio” album and it changed my life. Listening to Orson Welles’ terrifyingly vivid account of alien visitors made me understand that good storytelling can engage the imagination like nothing else.
From that moment on, I was hooked.
After spending over three decades in broadcasting, it’s clear that telling a good story is becoming a lost art. High definition television, Blu-Ray players, DVRs, iPods…it’s all great technology, but its focus is on making video look sharper or be more convenient to watch, not content. Special effects and surround sound can make a good story better, but they’ll never be a substitute for plot, characters and timing. Think about how many movies have nine-figure budgets and first-rate special effects, yet completely bomb at the box office. Why? Because summer blockbusters might entice the eyes, but they don’t capture the mind or touch the heart.
That’s why I love books. To succeed, readers have to feel something. If there’s a death on television the director will likely show you the body at the funeral, but if there’s a death in a book, the author has to make the readers themselves mourn. You can’t just show them what the funeral looks like, you have to make them feel like they are dressed in black, sitting in a pew, listening to Ave Maria. That’s a far more intimate experience and it’s why books and radio can never be trumped by technology.
I will always appreciate television for its unique strengths (and I know how much America loves seeing me in widescreen HD every night) but seeing is not the same as feeling; watching is not the same as engaging your imagination. Sure, a picture might be worth a thousand words, but a single word has something that a thousand pictures never could…magic.