Sunday, February 25, 2007

Writing Dissection - Part Two

Continuing from yesterday, here's the passage I want to discuss.
From early in Abiding Darkness:

Every day for the rest of his life, he would recall that she had been grinning. She was turning away from him; the movement lifted the short-cut hair in seeming slow-motion, moving it up and away from her like strips of ribbon on a fast carousel. A halo of water droplets escaped the brown tendrils and caught the afternoon sun life dozens of transparent pearls. The pearls arced away from the girl and fell in a perfect circle. Water ran down brown legs from the rolled up overalls, her knobby little knees bent, her body leaned out slightly, tanned arms lifted, and her knees began to straighten. And he'd remember how fast the grin changed to something else.

There are a lot of good things that happen in this passage. The key point, I think, is the statements that bracket the paragraph. "Every day for the rest of his life." There is already suspense building up from what we've seen in the story so far. But with this one statement, it tells a new reader that this is a key event in the book, if the character is impacted so strongly by it. It sets us up for expecting a lot out of the coming narration.

Coupled with that statement is the grin. Without reading anything else, we get a picture of youthful exuberance. The change at the end signifies a change that tears us away from this bliss and into the danger the author has been building up.

The grin goes along with the slow-motion description of the little girl's jump. This passage doesn't tell us that she is about to jump in the lake, but the leg extension, water droplets in the air, and water running down the leg all build the picture. It seems to me a good example of the old writing adage, "show, don't tell". How boring if he simply said, "she started to jump in the water when she suddenly saw something bad."

We also have a good picture of the girl. Sure, we know a lot about her from the first three chapters. However, the impression we have of her is reinforced with the mention of the different elements in this passage. Tanned arms/brown legs? It is summer and she spends a lot of time outside. Grinning? A happy child. Rolled up overalls? Sounds like a tomboy to me. Knobby little knees? She doesn't seem very big. The addition of these scattered descriptives paint a fuller image of Missy Parker, and helps her jump off the page.

If we're breaking down this passage, I have a point of critique. The careful description of water drops and such paints this as a slow motion memory, saying "seeming slow-motion" just spells it out for us a little more. There can be a good case for editing that phrase out.

Maybe all of this is elementary, but if nothing else this breakdown is helpful in considering my own writing. We don't want to read a book with every paragraph heavy with description, but strategically placed, it can really set the mood and submerge us into the writer's world.

It seems too much to tackle both passages in one post, so tomorrow I'll break down the passage from Wedgewood Grey.

1 comment:

  1. Jason, I really like what you did here. I thought that passage was a little heavy with description until you nailed the fact that it is a pivotal event. I think your final point was excellent.

    I'll look forward to your comments on the second passage.