Establishing goals is all right if you don't let them deprive you of interesting detours. --Doug Larson
challenging stack of books I brought home from the library recently. Well, the results are in. 11 books = 7 read, 4 renewed. But it's okay. I took a bit of a detour when I added Francine Prose's Reading Like a Writer to the pile.
I have no regrets, though. Otherwise, I may not have slowed down enough to catch some really memorable writing.
For example, in Chapter Two, Words, Prose says, "All the elements of good writing depend on the writer's skill in choosing one word instead of another." Here, in Avi's Poppy, the word "syrupy" makes all the difference: "Only thin ribbons of light seeped down through the green and milky air, air syrupy with the scent of pine, huckleberry, and juniper." It wouldn't be the same if "thick" had been substituted instead.
In Chapter Three, Sentences: "Read your work aloud...Chances are the sentence you can hardly pronounce without stumbling is a sentence that needs to be reworked to make it smoother." How about this from the prologue to Natalie Babbitt's Tuck Everlasting: "The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning." The cadence of this sentence, when read aloud, is delightful.
Chapter Four, Paragraphs: "In general...the paragraph could be understood as a sort of literary respiration... Inhale at the beginning of the paragraph, exhale at the end." Breathe this, from Alan Armstrong's Raleigh's Page: "The crossing was rough. It rained and sleeted on the Channel, the wind shrieking and snarling in the rigging like spirits. The ship creaked and groaned like she was dying. The trip was all staggering up steep hills of frothing waves and falling down the other side, only to begin the same again as waves dashed and slobbered them. They made nothing forwarad; it was all side to side."
Chapter Eight, Details: "If we want to write something memorable, we might want to pay attention to how and what we remember. The details are what stick with us." See if the following, from Karen Cushman's Alchemy and Meggy Swann, sticks with you like it did me: "The smiling and nodding Master Grimm was stuffed into a doublet so tight that Meggy thought his belly might burst forth and fire buttons like cannon-shot across the room."
I'm not finished with Prose's book yet. I still have Narration, Character, Dialogue, and Gesture to study. But that works out just about right. Four additional categories. Four more books. The detour's been worth it.
What words, sentences, paragraphs, or details have jumped out at you in your reading lately?