Monday, January 28, 2013

The Modern Girl’s Guide to Advice: Just Write It

By Kimberly Johnson
Often glib and sometimes risqué, but she made a good point. That’s how I define Dear Abby’s advice style. Straight, no chaser. That’s how I describe her writing style. I soaked in her column with zeal when it was featured in The State newspaper. She provided a forum for real talk. Here’s an example:
Dear Abby: My boyfriend is going to be 20 years old next month. I'd like to give him something nice for his birthday. What do you think he'd like? — CarolDear Carol: Never mind what he'd like, give him a tie.Dear Abby: I've been going with this girl for a year. How can I get her to say yes? — DonDear Don: What's the question?

Pauline Phillips, the lady behind the pen, died at the age 94 on January 16. Her career started in 1956 at the San Francisco Chronicle. Her pen name emerged from picking Abigail from the Bible and Van Buren from President Van Buren, according to lore. I was shocked to find out that her biggest competition was the Ann Landers column, written by her twin sister, Esther Lederer. I secretly admired the columnist because I wanted to write like that--quippy advice to women and men with succinct words. I figured it took real skills to develop a style and maintain a following of loyal readers. The Best of Dear Abby, a collection of her advice, retorts and insights was published in 1981.
Now that a legend has passed on, there's a new America’s Advice Queen on my reading shelf. It is E. Jean, the saucy advice guru for Elle magazine. The best way to characterize her is that she’s a disciple of Helen Gurley Brown and the grandmother of Sex In the City’s Carrie Bradshaw. Her advice is simple.

Dear E. Jean: I’ve been in an extremely satisfying relationship with my boyfriend for the past two years. Both our families love us as a couple. Since we moved in together six months ago, however, his mother insists on introducing me to her friends and relatives as her son’s fiancée—even though he hasn’t proposed yet! People invariably ask to see the ring (SHOCK—I have none) or ask how he proposed (GASP—he hasn’t yet), and his mom just stands there and smiles and smiles. How can I get her to stop doing this? The poor man hasn’t even had a chance to get down on one knee! —Frustrated and Flustered
Flustered, My Faun: Next time the lady—let’s call her Peggy—introduces you to her friends as her son’s fiancée, simply throw an arm around Peggy, clasp her warmly, and say to her pals, enthusiastically: “Peggy’s pregnant!” “No, I’m not!” she’ll cry. “You’re not?” you’ll say. “Well, your son hasn’t proposed, either. I guess we’ll both have to wait.” She’ll get the picture.
Abby and E. Jean are examples of columnists who used well organized, succinct writing techniques to dispense advice.

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