Getting the Reader to Say Wow!

One of my favorite books is Schulz and Peanuts, by David Michaelis; it’s the life story of Charles Schulz, a shy kid from Minneapolis who created the nation’s most popular comic strip.

Here’s Schulz talking about how to attract readers:  “You must give the audience moments. You must give them laughter, you must give them a little poignancy…”

Getting laughter isn’t easy; some writers have the gift but not many. But a writer who does great reporting can create moments of poignancy, moments that get the reader to say wow.

It can be the kind of emotional wow that brings tears to your eyes. Or the kind of cerebral wow that makes the reader think, “Now, I understand.”

It can be a quiet wow. Here’s Michaelis writing about the last strip that Schulz drew before he died:

“The cold of a January day. Peppermint Patty and Marcie, behind the rampart of one snow fort, exchange volleys of snowballs with Charlie Brown and Linus. Snoopy sits behind the lines in Charlie Brown’s camp, pondering a snowball.” The caption: “Suddenly the dog realized that his dad had never taught him how to throw snowballs.”

Michaelis says: “The last strip is not about a father who hasn’t taught his son to play but a father who hadn’t known how to help his son become the artist he yearned to be—a father who couldn’t teach him how to play because he himself could not free himself to play. Carl Schulz always had to be doing something useful. He could not just go out and throw baseballs or snowballs with his son. Drawing, even on a fogged trolley car window, had been the one area in which the son was free to play, to be a child, and to be creative; Peanuts had preserved that sacred grove for fifty years.”


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