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Just a sentence I ran across

June 18, 2015

Ran across this breathtaking sentence recently:
As I crossed his shadow, thrown long over the garden by the moon, not yet risen high, he said quietly, without turning–
“Jane, come and look at this fellow.”

Even if read quickly, its delicate phrasing would still resonant. How does it have that effect?

First, unlike most sentences which simply take off and then end, this contains several slight pauses, like musical phrases, which give it shape and form. “As I crossed his shadow, pause, thrown long over the garden by the moon, pause, not yet risen high, pause, he said quietly, pause, without turning, pause . . .
Now that you’re aware of these pauses, read the sentence again, and hear its music.
As I crossed his shadow, thrown long over the garden by the moon, not yet risen high, he said quietly, without turning–
But that’s not all. Look at what follows the word “shadow.” Yes, it’s giving you information about that shadow. It’s telling you the shadow is “thrown long.” Think about that for a second. A lesser writer might have been content to simply say “a long shadow,” but this writer went beyond that and chose “thrown,” which by it’s implicit action, suggests someone throwing a blanket perhaps. How precise is that when applied to a shadow?
And there’s more. Listen to what follows “thrown long:”
over the garden by the moon

Musical, definitely. But how? By the two prepositional phrases: “over the garden,” and “by the moon.” But notice “over the garden” is placed first. Why? Does it make a difference? Listen to it the other way. You decide. “by the moon over the garden” It has the same meaning but the phrasing is a bit clunky Original phrasing: long-short-short-long-short -long-short-long OH-ver the GARden BY the MOON

Clunky phrasing: long-short-long-long-short-short-long-short BY the MOON OH-ver the GARden. Clun-ky.

It’s those consecutive stressed sounds MOON and OH that spoil the sweetness.

Still more? You betcha. Just as “thrown long” modifies shadow, “not yet risen high” modifies moon. So we have a shadow that’s “thrown long” and a moon that’s risen–Oh but it isn’t merely risen, that would be too imprecise. We have a moon “not yet risen high.”

How beautiful is that?

It doesn’t end there. The whole purpose of this sentence is to show us the character who’s about to speak. How best to do that? People speak all kinds of ways. They shout, whisper, nag, condescend, but this character is going to say what he’s about to say quietly. Intriguing, isn’t it, that he’s keeping it low?
But that’s not all. Just as people speak in all sorts of ways, they also move in all sorts of ways while talking: hands waving, heads shaking, shoes being banged on tables. But guess what? This writer chose the road less traveled. Her character’s movement is no movement at all. How clever. Her character speaks “without turning.”

So? By describing the character’s non-movement, the writer has given the reader a chance to participate in the story. What image do we get by reading “without turning?” Maybe someone so captivated by what he’s looking at, he’s frozen in place.
And once we make the connection between a character seeing something and being frozen in place by what he’s seeing, our natural reaction is curiosity. Okay, what’s he looking at?

Such a subtle way to get you, the reader, to keep reading to find out what happens next. No violence, no profanity, no explosions, no Hollywood gimmicks, just brilliant writing. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Just a sentence I ran across recently.

As I crossed his shadow, thrown long over the garden by the moon, not yet risen high, he said quietly, without turning–
“Jane, come and look at this fellow.”


Subtle and precise

May 22, 2015

A politely inquisitive look remained on her face.

A lesser writer might have written: Her face showed she was questioning what was just said.

Or perhaps: An inquisitive look crossed her face.

The first example for all it’s wordiness is vague, not nearly as precise as the original version. The second example is almost a cliché (crossed her face), which we’ve all read a thousand times: an angry look crossed her face; a look of fear crossed her face.

In the original, inquisitive is modified by politely, softening it (as opposed to say, A rudely inquisitive look …), while the choice of remained adds freshness and suggests a time element crossed does not.

In all, this one sentence, buried among thousands of others in The Accidental Tourist, is one more remarkable example of how subtle and precise Anne Tyler is as a writer. Just thought I’d share.

The Moment

February 12, 2015

This is one of my flash fiction pieces (250 words) titled The Moment, from July of ’12 – hope you like it – not really for Valentine’s Day though.

After Kendra left, Jarod followed her outside, not realizing he was barefoot and it was snowing until he stepped off the stoop. Snowflakes twirled in the lamplight. Before meeting Kendra, he had never noticed such things. The way the light caught the downward spiraling snowflakes seemed magical. She had opened his eyes. At first he didn’t believe he had it in him, but she showed him he did. He just needed to slow down, be in the moment, she’d say.
It was just this heightened sense of things that sent him from a warm apartment into the snowy January evening.
“Wait,” he called out, the word sounding stark and desperate but truthful in the chilled air.
To his surprise she stopped, turned.
“Wait,” he said again, catching up to her. “Didn’t you forget something?”
She looked at his bare feet. “Didn’t you?”
“Yes, how much I need you.”
“No, you don’t.”
“You opened my eyes, my heart. I’m even noticing snowflakes in lamplight because of you.”
“Then my work is done. Time to move on.”
Jarod felt the cold just then.
“How do we do this? Get things right?”
“Well, we can try again in ten years when you’ve matured.” She started to walk away.
He was shivering from the cold. “Good, maybe the ice encasing your heart will have thawed by then.”
As he watched Kendra walking away, he knew he was perfecting this living the moment thing, with each breath, feeling every painful microsecond of it.

The true meaning of Christmas – Hallelujah! He shall reign forever and ever

December 25, 2014

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them,

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

   LUKE 2:8-14


December 22, 2014

This “holiday” season we are surrounded by hatred, confusion, fear. We feel emotions because we are human. We are emotional human beings, for better or for worse. This is our fate. We cannot change the fact that our actions are often driven by our emotions.

Is it a coincidence we’re experiencing such explosive emotions at the same time many celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ?  Is it? Perhaps it’s a reminder of where we should turn for help and guidance and peace in our lives?

We feel emotions because we are human. We are human because we feel emotion.

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ bless you this holiday season.

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