Imitating the Greatest Novel of All Time - Part 3 of ?

Here we go, paragraph number 6. Puzzling this out, developing this skill, is harder than one might think, and maybe harder than I can do. But, let's give it a go anyway.


Here are the first six paragraphs of "Replay" by Ken Grimwood.

Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died.

"We need--" she'd said, and he never heard her say just what it was they needed, because something heavy seemed to slam against his chest, crushing the breath out of him. The phone fell from his hand and cracked the glass paperweight on his desk.

Just the week before, she'd said something similar, had said, "Do you know what we need, Jeff?" and there'd been a pause - not infinite, not final, like this mortal pause, but a palpable interim nonetheless. He'd been sitting at the kitchen table, in what Linda liked to call the "breakfast nook," although it wasn't really a separate space at all, just a little formica table with two chairs placed awkwardly between the left side of the refrigerator and the front of the clothes drier. Linda had been chopping onions at the counter when she said it, and maybe the tears at the corner of her eyes were what had set him thinking, had lent her question more import than she'd intended.

"Do you know what we need, Jeff?"

And he was supposed to say, "What's that, hon?" was supposed to say it distractedly and without interest as he read Hugh Sidey's column about the presidency in Time. But Jeff wasn't distracted; he didn't give a damn about Sidey's ramblings. He was in fact more focused and aware than he had been in a long, long time. So he didn't say anything at all for several moments; he just stared at the false tears in Linda's eyes and thought about the things they needed, he and she.

They needed to get away, for starters, needed to get on a plane going someplace warm and lush - Jamaica, perhaps, or Barbados. They hadn't had a real vacation since that long-planned but somehow disappointing tour of Europe five years ago. Jeff didn't count their annual Florida trips to see his parents in Orlando and Linda's family in Boca Raton; those were visits to an ever-receding past, nothing more. No, what they needed was a week, a month, on some decadently foreign island: making love on endless empty beaches, and at night the sound of reggae music in the air like the smell of hot red flowers.

Good stuff, now, the first five paragraphs of my imitation.

Tom Brooks was reading the newspaper when the lights went out.

"Terror in downtown . . ." he was reading, and he never got to read what the terror was, because something crackled outside, the lightbulb flashed and burst above his head. The newspaper fell from his hands as hot glass rained down around him in the dark.

Just yesterday something similar had happened, there had been a flash - not darkness, not total, not permanent like this, but a flicker none-the-less. He'd been standing in front of the fireplace, what he liked to call the "hearth," although it wasn't so impressive as that sounded, just a little metal grate within a simple stone encasement that was set in an awkward position between the living room and just left of the entrance way. Tom had been staring into the flames when it happened, and maybe the light from the fire was what started his mind turning, had lent the occurrence more import than it necessitated.

"Krrrrsh-st-st-pa-zzzz-Tah."

He was supposed to go check the breakers, was supposed to call the power company, ask them in an annoyed tone when the power was going to be back on. But Tom wasn't annoyed; he didn't give a damn about the power. He was in fact more calm and aware than he had been in a long, long time. So he didn't do anything at all for several moments; he just stared into the darkness and thought about terror.

We can see that at the end of paragraph five Grimwood leads us into Jeff's feeling of need in his relationship. I've led Tom into thinking about terror. I don't particularly like that, for a few reasons. One is that I don't particularly want to talk about terror, but it will work, and should work well. The second reason is that I don't want to go into a calculating series of thoughts about terror. I believe I have held the attention of the reader up to this point, the first five paragraphs are pretty solid, although number four may be suspect. I am going to change the end of paragraph five to lead us into feelings about terror, [...and thought about (the feeling of) terror.] I think that will work better, but, now, that leaves me with the real issue; I have to write paragraph six.

I have veered rather significantly from Grimwood's subject, but I want to stay somewhat close in style. Right here I should be going into an idyllic day-dream tempered with a note about reality. That seems rather hard to do with a subject introduced simply as terror. It must be a day-dream about not having terror then. I could go before the terror, but that isn't the same as an imaginary future. An alternate present day-dream may be the best. Let's try out some sentences.

He could still remember when there wasn't terror. Light and heat whenever you wanted it, movies to watch and music to listen to. He hadn't watched a movie since that much anticipated but somehow disappointing historical piece two years ago. Tom didn't count the weekly trips he had to make into town for the official party films; those were mandatory, nothing more. No, what he wanted was two hours, three, with a melodramatic thriller, or a romantic comedy: laughing and eating popcorn with extra butter, knowing that everything would turn out alright in the end.

That could definitely be changed and improved upon. I could completely change it, but maybe just a change to that first sentence.

He could still remember feeling, something else, feeling like the future held possibilities to explore and discover - joy, perhaps, or happiness.

That sounds pretty good on its own, but it doesn't go with my second sentence. I'm going to try to adapt this one rather than changing the next sentence as well.

He could still remember feeling, something else, feeling like he could enjoy today and look forward to tomorrow - comfort, perhaps, or even happiness.

I think that will work, let's put it back together.

He could still remember feeling, something else, feeling like he could enjoy today and look forward to tomorrow - comfort, perhaps, or even happiness. Light and heat whenever you wanted it, movies to watch and music to listen to. He hadn't watched a movie since that much anticipated but somehow disappointing historical piece two years ago. Tom didn't count the weekly trips he had to make into town for the official party films; those were mandatory, nothing more. No, what he wanted was two hours, three, with a melodramatic thriller, or a romantic comedy: laughing and eating popcorn with extra butter, knowing that everything would turn out alright in the end.

I like it. Let's put all six paragraphs together and see what it sounds like.

Tom Brooks was reading the newspaper when the lights went out.

"Terror in downtown . . ." he was reading, and he never got to read what the terror was, because something crackled outside, the lightbulb flashed and burst above his head. The newspaper fell from his hands as hot glass rained down around him in the dark.

Just yesterday something similar had happened, there had been a flash - not darkness, not total, not permanent like this, but a flicker none-the-less. He'd been standing in front of the fireplace, what he liked to call the "hearth," although it wasn't so impressive as that sounded, just a little metal grate within a simple stone encasement that was set in an awkward position between the living room and just left of the entrance way. Tom had been staring into the flames when it happened, and maybe the light from the fire was what started his mind turning, had lent the occurrence more import than it necessitated.

"Krrrrsh-st-st-pa-zzzz-Tah."

He was supposed to go check the breakers, was supposed to call the power company, ask them in an annoyed tone when the power was going to be back on. But Tom wasn't annoyed; he didn't give a damn about the power. He was in fact more calm and aware than he had been in a long, long time. So he didn't do anything at all for several moments; he just stared into the darkness and thought about terror.

He could still remember feeling, something else, feeling like he could enjoy today and look forward to tomorrow - comfort, perhaps, or even happiness. Light and heat whenever you wanted it, movies to watch and music to listen to. He hadn't watched a movie since that much anticipated but somehow disappointing historical piece two years ago. Tom didn't count the weekly trips he had to make into town for the official party films; those were mandatory, nothing more. No, what he wanted was two hours, three, with a melodramatic thriller, or a romantic comedy: laughing and eating popcorn with extra butter, knowing that everything would turn out alright in the end.

It seems fairly decent. Reading over it there are things that give me an impulse to throw out the whole thing and start over, but onward I say, onward into the unknown.

You are welcome to join me in my writing adventures at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

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