Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tricks They Play with Numbers

They say five times as many people read a headline as read the article, so baiting the hook is key to increasing screen clicks and readership. Have you, too, tired of cheap tricks embedded in headlines beckoning for our attention?

They do it because it works. A quick search reveals a simple headline-writing formula to hook us: 

Number or Trigger word + Adjective + Keyword + Promise.
10 Nutrients that Shrink Your Belly

3 Foods You Should Never Eat

4 Things Never to Buy at Trader Joe's.

10 Things Your Doctor won't tell you about an MRI.

So Five Easy Steps to Deliver Readers is the game. Sound familiar?

Stephen Covey gave us 7 Habits of Highly Successful People 15 years ago. In the past two decades, countless titles have followed in his highly successful footsteps.

I refuse to take the bait and pass up most such headlines. No one really has that kind of time. But this morning, having seen many variations on a theme of "14 most powerful literary quotes," I succumbed.

Because I find inspiration in words, not numbers, I trolled into this potential deep well. Uplifting words that encourage the disquieted soul, or words that speak of beauty and strength and resilience in the face of struggle--these are words that draw us in and have the power to sustain for the long haul. I’m not looking for an easy answer, for a bumper sticker for the heart.

I'm taking about words that linger long after those quick-tricks-for-clicks fail and search engine optimization mutates into the next new thing.

Quotations serve a purpose as shorthand directing us to a source for further reading. Quick quotes can be reduced to trite sayings when listed as top ten favorites and out of context. But I took the bait and jotted a couple:

"They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.”

― F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise

Jump start a book with that line and I’m hooked. We—male and female if we could be honest—long for such a connection, such intimacy. Not flowery romanticism or superficial trappings that masquerade as love, but the rock-solid knowing and being accepted for who we are.

The rarity of that intimacy and Fitzgerald’s expression of it held me for a moment.

In true southern fashion, we claim kin to several in this literary slice of Americana. F. Scott’s Zelda was an Alabama girl and longtime friend of H.L. Mencken’s wife, Sara, who was the Montgomery sister of our family’s uncle Johnny. So we’re practically related.

While the capital of the Confederacy was marching from Montgomery to Richmond in 1861, Charles Dickens wrote his own words that made the list:
“I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.”

― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

              (Estella and Pip. Illustration by F. A. Fraser, Household Edition of Great Expectations, 1877. Public domain.)
There is the theme again.

We may remember a few timeless words a bit older.

 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loves us.” 
The list of calamities against which love endures is long and winding and appears variously in Romans 8:35-39 and elsewhere.

Everything gets recycled with a twist; everyone gets credited with originality when there is nothing new under the sun. So say both William Shakespeare and the writer of Ecclesiastes.
Paulo Coelho, for example, wrote in The Alchemist, "Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure."

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" was credited from the Harry Potter series.

More ancient is the writing in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Matthew's citation did not make the internet list,  but there’s hope. It meets the two-prong test: theme of love and posted with numbers. The allure of love is deeper still than the lure of numbers in a headline.