Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Feedback with a Twist: A Gorgeous Sentence or Two?

Me and my head, upside down like I like to be.
So, a little twist on Friday Feedback this week.

Rather than posting an excerpt, I'm going to just roll around in some gorgeous sentences here, and maybe toss up one or two nice ones (?) of my own. Because that's where my head is at this week.

You can put up a gorgeous sentence of your own, too, or put up a whole excerpt for feedback... your choice, and I'll give the usual feedback.

In case you don't know the rules, THEY ARE SIMPLE and HERE. Remember the limit is 3 -5 paragraphs.

Anyway, back to the rolling.

I am definitely a "writing over story" person. In the books I read, and the books I write.
I'm not sure this is a good thing (it's certainly led to a million rejections that read: "The writing is beautiful, but..."), and, it's not to say I don't try my hardest to write an interesting story, or that I don't want the same as a reader, because I do!

It's just that, I cannot force myself to read a crappily-written story, no matter how brilliant the plot twists may be. And, I don't care so much about a story's lack of high stakes if the words are filling me, speaking to me where I live.

Certainly, judging from book sales at large, I am in the minority: Most people will opt for a big story any day over craft. I mean, I haven't read them myself, but I hear the Twilight books (or the Davinci Code) didn't sell on the strength of their gorgeous writing.

A good story is obviously not overrated.

And yet.

I long for them, the words that, strung together, amaze you.

The sentences that steal your breath away.

It happened to me again today. I am reading A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias, which I've been trying to get to for two years. A few pages in, I stumble upon this:

"In truth, he could find no comfortable place to sit in the company of her illness. He would find guilt and shame no matter how he behaved. She was going to die and he was not; in the undeclared war of marriage, it was an appalling victory." 

I suppose, if you are a young adult -- my main audience here -- and/or have not experienced the inherent love-hate vicissitudes of a long-term marriage, and the fear of losing a spouse -- those words might not accost you, eviscerate you, kick you in the gut, like they do me. I suppose they may not stay with you forever, as you wonder if you will ever write a sentence with such impact.

But, such gorgeous sentences pepper my favorite YA novels, as well. Take Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork; The Miles Between, by Mary E. Pearson; or, of course, The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak.

Here's a little gem from the YA novel I'm reading now, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King. It's just such a simple concept, a whole novel in a few brief sentences if you ask me:

"The thing you don't see while you're still here on Earth is how easy it is to change your mind. When you're in it, and you're mixed up with feelings, assumptions, influences, things seem completely impossible to change. From here, you see that change is as easy as flicking a light switch in your brain."

Or this little tidbit from one of my favorite YA's, OyMG, by my pal Amy Fellner Dominy, as the protagonist is talking to her father about identity and fitting in:

"I wish we were more like flowers." I traced a finger over an orange petal shot through with a curl of yellow. "Zinnias and marigolds are different but look how nice they are in the same pot."

He sighed.  "Amen to that."

I mean, I read that book more than a year ago, but the moment created by those few sentences have stayed with me...

Here's a small section from my manuscript out on submission Frankie Sky that I like:

"I blink back tears that sting my eyes, and squint through them at Simon’s stone frog. The flowers that encircle him melt into a rainbow blur. For now, they’re fuchsia dianthus and periwinkle forget-me-nots, but when those die back, the bleeding hearts will open, grow tall and leggy, draping their pink and white teardrop buds. Those will last for the rest of the summer, and in fall, Mom will surround him in lavender asters, and bright orange potted mums. And, in winter when everything is dead, she’ll arrange a bright array of mirrored gazing balls. Say what you want, my mother is good at her grief-appropriate gardening."
Or here's an evocative passage from a rough manuscript I'm working on called In Sight of Stars (the protagonist Klee, and his girlfriend Sarah, are on the observation deck of the Empire State Building):
"I move beside her, tilt my head back, and watch the illuminated mist swirl by. It's disconcerting, feels as if the whole building sways along with it. I close my eyes against it, but then open them again, willing the grates to give way and release us, sending us spiraling through the cloudy night sky, like Icarus falling from the sun."
So, how about you? Got a line to share. A few choice sentences that stick with you, evoke emotion when you think of them? Make you wish you wrote them instead? Or better yet, one or two you wrote, that you're willing to share with us here, now?
- gae

*if you're looking for my women's blog, you can find it here:
** follow me on Twitter:!/gaepol


  1. I don't write beautiful sentences. I am exactly the opposite of you, Gae, as a writer: all about story, story, story.

    I used to long to be a beautiful writer, but I'm finally beginning to accept my style and nature.

    It's okay. In my next life, I'll be a writer whose language is lyrical AND with a narrative that grabs the reader all night long. Like sex?

  2. So who's your audience? Teens? Or the Newberry Medal committee?

    If it's the prize people you're after then, frankly, I'm relieved: "Evocative" sentences like "I close my eyes against it, but then open them again, willing the grates to give way and release us, sending us spiraling through the cloudy night sky, like Icarus falling from the sun" are one reason the Youth of America don't read anymore.

    Your straw man-argument notwithstanding, the choice for author or reader is not between Proust and Dan Brown. Between those two extremes one finds the meat of our cultural heritage, from Shakespeare and Dickens to Le Carre and, yes, Stephen King.

    Wannabe Writers, listen up: One person's "evocative" sentence is another person's wince-inducing attempt to reach beyond his (or her) grasp. But tell a good story, and the world's in your thrall.

  3. Skeeter, wow you have strong feelings on this issue. Thanks for sharing, I think, although I'm a bit concerned by the harshness in your opinion, or the label of "wannabe writers" as any writer is just that, a writer.

    Sadly, I did not win a Newbery, but luckily, I do have some teen readers who have enjoyed my first book, including some teen boys who have said that it's the first book that made them want to read. Pretty words and all. So that's cool.

    But I agree that there needs to be a reason for the writing, and that pretty writing alone is not enough.


    1. Hi. I have no idea what you mean by the last 'graf but, lol, if you say so...

      Good luck to ya!

  4. Jody, funny, I'm not sure whether beautiful is the right word... I've read your blog posts in the past and they have always moved me, been evocative. I would say you can do both!

  5. Man, Scooter's twin sister isn't very nice for a muppet. I am guessing in addition to being a muppet, she is a teacher of literature, and for that reason has yet to figure out that Shakespeare is crap.