Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Establishing goals is all right if you don't let them deprive you of interesting detours. --Doug Larson

Confession time. I didn't make my goal. You might remember the 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?


  1. Oh wow-- I loved loved reading these examples. It makes me think of some of my own wording and how lacking it is. TO be able to write like that! The visuals are beautiful!
    I've been reading a lot of E. Berg and some of her descriptions have me drooling:)

  2. Details always jump out at me if there done in a unique and interesting way. I tend to shy away from the library during the summer and stick to my Kindle or store bought books. Buy I love to load up every other month of the year all in the name of research. I'll read just about anything to study the craft.

  3. Great imagery in your samples. And I love Francine Prose...she kills me with her last name. ;)

    I've been detouring my butt off lately. Maybe when the kid gets back to school next week I can find some kind of a schedule.

    Have a delightful holiday weekend,

  4. How can you be upset about reading 7 books?? Dude, my goals often go way worse than that. :)

  5. These details were awesome!!! And I'm with Elana how could you be upset with reading 7 books? You are amazing with your goals... My best goals are to write at least one comment on someones blog (Okay so not really, but you know what I mean!!)

  6. Thanks so much to all for stopping by. And I just want to say that those 7 books were children's books, no adults, and all averaged only about 150 pp, except for one. So please don't give me too much credit! Have a great weekend :-)

  7. Thanks for the concise ideas from Prose's book. Maybe I'll put that on my Christmas list. (This is the time of year my organized sister-in-law starts asking.)
    I especially loved the quote from *Tuck Everlasting*--one of my favorite children's books to teach. That sentence is fantastic!