What A Riff Off!

You’ve heard it said, there’s nothing new under the Sol (I know – the sun, but that sounds so cliché and besides, Sol is also another name for Solomon and that guy was bright in the ways of wisdom).

So here we are. We’re writers. And quite delighted of it.

So what if I told you that I’ve already written your story?

That’s right. I have a bonnet & buggy suspense thriller about first contact with orange alien firefighters turned mobsters who are infiltrated by a secret government cadre. And it’s a love story!

The bible tells us this, in Ecclesiastes 12:12 …

But beyond these, my son, be warned: there is no end to the making of many books, and much study wearies the body.   Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Some translations even go so far as to render the second half of that verse this way –

excessive devotion to books is wearying to the bodyortoo much study will wear you out

Ouch! How’s that for a motivator?

Two quick asides:   ONE – I’m not performing exegesis on this particular scripture; it’s to make a point.   TWO – Please keep that last translation out of the reach of my kids. They’ll lobby to have that memory verse enshrined in the AWANA program.

Ecclesiastes by the way is attributed to King Solomon. The book engenders authentic human emotions of distress and uncertainty. Conflict? Tension? Sounds like the makings of story to me.

What is a riff anyway?

A lyrical phrase in songs that summarizes what it’s about and is repeated … also known as a hook. And the key thing to note is that the riff is memorable.

How many times have you been told about ‘the hook’ and to make your writing sing?

I will illustrate this theme. How? With a story of course.

My dear wife and I were on our honeymoon and stopped to spend the night at a motel in Amarillo, Texas. We wished to pay a visit to a local bookstore and wanted to know how early they opened. My wife called the store and got no answer. They had no voicemail system. The next morning as we checked out, our bill showed a 50 cent charge for a local call. My wife, incredulous at the audacity of being charged for a local phone call that didn’t complete, said this: “What a rip!”

If memory serves, she repeated the exclamation with punctuated and designated silence between each word: “WHAT  A  RIP!“ I believe this was coupled with the obligatory slap of the hand on the counter to emphasize the outrageousness of the situation.

I, Mr. Introverted Dreamer Dude, quite content to pay the communications toll without a fuss, was busy trying to scoop my jaw off the lobby floor while angling to check my wife’s driver’s license (just to be sure I hadn’t done the “I Do” thing with an evil clone). And thus began the first in a series of storied marital adventures.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Nineteen years later, my youngest daughter—sweet as a powdered sugar doughnut—annoyed with a toy in the hallway outside my office door, said this: “What a rip!”

I choke on my Coke, I’m chuckling so hard.

Why the utter delight? She’s riffing off her mom. This is delicious! There’s the hook, it is repeated, and it’s memorable. Different context plus same theme. I shall call this – “Riff the Diff”.

Over the years, we’ve recalled that incident in the motel lobby and repeated the “What a rip!” riff countless times. It has become a staple in our family story bin and always elicits delight.

So, What Makes a Diff?

Let’s bring the theme closer to your hearts. You’ve studied the craft of writing until you’re beyond blue in the face, you’re a blueberry. You’re writing a story. You’re on mission. It’s what you’re wired to do. Yet somehow, you sense you’re a train wreck rolling.     [ NOTE: See Jeff Goins link below for a window seat on the subject of wrecked. ]

And if you’re at all like me, you’re a dreamer. You find it hard to slog through another word processed page. This creativity business is work. Can’t someone just take the voices out of our heads and laser them right onto the page? Ugh!

And in the immortal words of Charlie Brown, lamenting the need to get a certain book report done, “it’s not due till Wednesday, so I’ll have all of Tuesday …” Yes, there’s that element too.

A voice whispers in your ear. “Your story is no different than Tiff’s which is no different than Biff’s.” Ugh again.

May I make a suggestion?

Take something you’ve read or watched this week that vibrated the needle on your interest meter. Reread it and appropriate a “riff-off” from it.  Go ahead; give yourself permission to deface it. Be outlandish! Find a new twist on something that has been done before. Because let’s face it. It HAS been done before. It WILL BE done again. There’s nothing new under the Sol.

PLAY WITH IT! Musicians riff all the time. Don’t let them have all the fun. Delight yourself in the exercise.

Look at the success of the “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” series of books. ‘Nuff said.

Think of a movie that demonstrates this “riff-off” trait. One I watched recently is – “Cowboys and Aliens” with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig.

Wrestle with it.

Jacob of the Old Testament—his name means “heel grabber”—was full of fears and anxiety. Read … constant struggle.  And what did he do? He wrestled with God. There’s more to Jacob’s story and I’ll leave you to read that.

I’m like you. I wanted to launch a blog to help me find a tribe, an audience, or a horde. Let’s be honest, a validation badge sounds spiffy too. I’ve studied all the “rules” and tried to force my writing into a formula. Monetize your blog. Make it SEO friendly. Blog often to make gallons of Google juice. Don’t write until you’ve found your niche. Study. Study. Study. Oh yeah, cough up some coin for a “system”. Rinse. Repeat. And you want to know what happened?

All the “you gotta’s” wrecked my voice. Voice – the one thing that makes me, me. I lost my first love in the din of blogdom.

“What a rip!”

I also learned there IS truth to the notion that too much study will wear you outI was so exhausted from studying (I guess that’s the educator in me) that I eroded my creative reserves.

Here’s the thing my friends. All the marketing in the Milky Way will not help you if you don’t have a product. A wise editor once told me to stop “playing” at marketing and produce something. That produce, that fruit, for me, is a finished novel. AND, it is why as nifty as this blog might turn out to be, my first love is novel writing.

Go Riff Something Off!

This is not Solomon talking, this is me, and I am you. Be bold, be courageous! Conspire with this creative and tell me something cool … Hey, I give you permission. Go ahead and riff me off. Seriously. I’m not worried, and you know why? You can riff off someone but you cannot rip off their voice. Ah! There’s food for another post.

So, what’s your riff?

Do share! I’d love to hear those memorable hooks. Remember, you’ve got to repeat them to keep them alive.

In closing, I want you to know who I’ve riffed off of recently in this journey. These are two gentlemen who I resonate with and want to share their giftedness with you …

FIRST: I’m riffing off Jeff Goins of “Wrecked” fame … you MUST read his work. Visit his blog at:   http://goinswriter.com/

His landing page post is for you. “Fall Back in Love with Writing”.  GET and read a free copy of “The Writer’s Manifesto” ebook and renew the commitment to your dream. Then get “Wrecked” with him.

SECOND: Another soul many of you know. Michael Ehret & his blog:      http://writingonthefineline.com/

He stands ready to guide you through a hinterland known as the fine line“Helping writers cross the fine line between where they are and where they want to be.” Mike is approachable and gifted. He has a unique knack for editing that retains your voice. Visit his blog and see the testimonies to his skill.

Now go produce, share your riffs … before I write your story. You’ve been warned.     🙂


  1. You may be on to something here … great opening post, David! It fryd me. Keep it up!

    • Thank you Mike! Writing is a blast. On my grandmother’s farm, all story telling took place in the kitchen so I just love that “frying” metaphor. AND, as I write, it’s so nice to have guides like you to spice up the recipes. Your contributions to this craft are welcomed and monumentally appreciated. Blessings …