"And the words slide into the slots ordained by syntax,
and glitter as with atmospheric dust with those impurities
which we call meaning."-- Anthony Burgess, Enderby
He's right, of course. It's the words that glitter, sometimes leaping off the page to make the reader pause and reimagine the entire world. As Virginia Tufte reminds us, "But it is synatx that gives words the power to relate to each other in a sequence, to create rhythms and emphasis, to carry meaning--of whatever kind--as well as glow individually in just the right place."
I teach "Style in Fiction," and each week, we peer closely at sentences. The sentence is, after all, the material we work with. At the beginning of the course, each student brings in a favorite sentence, one that he or she wishes he/she wrote. And from that sentence, we look at the architecture or the framing. Once we understand it, we use the frame and flow in our own content. It's fun, exhiliarating, and often that one sentence serves as a springboard to a passage, a story, a part of a novel. It's a lovely way to work. If you are inspired by a sentence, whole worlds can be created.
Here's a sentence from Kate Moses' beautiful novel, Wintering:
“Compared to her usual dawn aftertaste of despair, this sensation seems positively optimistic, untethered as an escaped balloon—a feeling almost like the first days of falling in love.” Kate Moses, Wintering
And here is the students' response:
In contrast to his usual cocky strut of confidence, this posture seems positively weighted, locked as an iron chain—a stance almost like a lover placing whispered tears on their beloved’s tomb.
Unlike her most recent rigor of martyrdom, this desire was uncharacteristically self-serving, unpredictable as an unbroken colt—an expectation like sneaking down a dark alley to the hidden door of a speakeasy.
Compared to her usual liquid, lingering aftertaste of evening lust, this sated sensation seems to fall flat, withered as a single cut rose with not water—a feeling almost like the first days of regret.
Measured against the smooth allure of most of her men, this guy was absolutely clueless, uncoordinated as a child spun around—so dizzyingly naïve she could not help but be charmed.
Compared to his traditional mornings of abrasive loneliness, this sensation seems resolutely romantic, absolute as a deflating inner tube—a feeling almost like the first moment of orgasm.
Compared to the assaulting American dialect he spoke when he arrived, his voice and words now were positively musical, cuddly and calming as a well played fiddle—each utterance was akin to hearing an Alan Bennett soliloquy.
While the air outside breezed delicate and cool, inside the shed it hung heavy with dust, a gray cloud from which shadowy figures emerged and disappeared again like ghosts—a mysterious world in which the stonecutters looked as sculptural as their art.
Compared to his usual midday mood of mellowness, this aura appears emphatically edgy, rising anxiously as a steam from a kettle—a feeling almost like the seconds before blast off.
Compared to their usual collegial banter, this cool dismissal felt vaguely cruel, irrefutable as a “Members Only” sign—a conspiracy of silence that reminded him of the jury’s stone-cold faces.
Unlike their rare midnight swells of passion, this requisite intimacy seems uninspiring, shackled as a hand to an arm—a sensation much like the blurred minutes of middle age.
Now beyond regret’s crepuscular sour, this new slowly rising sensation strikes him as audacious and auspicious, a cardinal peaceful in flight—a feeling not unlike the still, silent stirrings of first light.
Compared to his usual dessert-or-coffee sleepy satisfaction, this meal was actively trying to crawl back up his esophagus, while also expanding sinking into his stomach like a lead weight—a feeling almost like the realization his rowboat was quickly taking on water.
Causes Nina Schuyler Supports
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