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ANN BRADY

Author, Speaker & Mentor

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THE COLUMBO CLOSE

We think of writers having an effect on TV but don’t often find that this works in reverse. Yes we know TV scripts have been created by writers but, when they set out their ideas it isn’t to influence the world of business. And yet that can happen. Which goes to show that influential people we writers can be. For example…


Recently, whilst finishing breakfast, I was watching an episode of Columbo on TV. In the scene Columbo was chatting to the guilty party, knowing he had committed the murder but being unable at that point to prove it. After much chit chat the killer told Columbo how the victim, an artist, being creative had often gone from great heights to feelings of great sadness, so suicide wasn’t to be unexpected. Columbo insisted that he was sure she had been murdered and while the killer commiserated he insisted Columbo was wrong before driving away feeling, no doubt, quite smug he had got one over on the great detective.


What impressed me most at this point was the following scene. As the camera watched the car drive away it then panned back towards Columbo. He was watching the car, having his tongue clearly stuck in his cheek, eyes slightly downwards. As he turned towards the camera, without actually looking at it, tongue still in cheek he did a small smile, nodded his head ever so slightly and had a look on his face which said – I know you did it and I am going to prove it.


Whoever wrote that scene knew exactly what was needed. No words were spoken. But then they weren’t needed as due to the quality of the actor, Peter Falk, his facial and bodily expressions did all the talking for him. We viewers got the message loud and clear. It was this scene which got me wondering, while the message the script writer wanted us to get was so obviously showing on the screen, how do we writers take the same scene and write it in such a way that our readers are able to see within their minds eye the same message?

The question is you have to think long and hard, choosing the right words that will open up your readers minds so they feel, see and experience, all the scenes, emotions, etc, that your characters do. Being able to use the right words when writing is all important. Making your readers enter a world that exists in their minds only is what makes us writers differ from script writers, even though we are both in effect doing the same type of job.


I do like Columbo, and so does my husband who told me about how the way Columbo interviews his suspects became part of a salesman’s training. Now, unless you are, or know, a well-trained salesman you may never have heard about this, and surprisingly, I don’t think the script writers ever intended it to become part of a training programme either. However, it appears Columbo’s habit of asking questions of the guilty person, then starting to leave the scene only to stop and say, “Oh one more thing” was picked up as a way of ‘nailing’ that extra sale item.


Here is an example: Let’s say you are trying to sell breakfast cereal. According to my husband when a salesman goes to make a sale, the buyer becomes defensive, being determined to only buy the absolute minimum of product. The salesman asks what about ordering some Porridge Oats? Buyer says no doesn’t need them. Salesman lets it go and continues fulfilling the rest of his order sheet. Finished, he heads for the door. But stopping he turns to the buyer, who has now relaxed because he thinks he’s done his ordering, and the salesman says, “With the sudden change in the weather (it’s turned cold) Porridge Oats are going to be in high demand. Are you sure I shouldn’t put you down for a couple of boxes?” Remember, the Buyer has relaxed. Without thinking, he turns and agrees to the addition to the order.


Salesman one - buyer nil.


This is called the Columbo Close, because that is what he does when he’s trying to catch the killer out on some small snippet of information. In a past life my husband worked for Maxwell House Coffee – an American firm, which is where he learnt the Close. Which just goes to show that we writers can have a great affect on the world around us, one way or another.


Don’t forget, what you write affects how your story is read. The way you describe someone, something, a scene, an event etc., will benefit your readers experience and thus their enjoyment of your book, making them faithful followers and fans.


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