Imitating the Greatest Novel of All Time - Part 4 of ?

I believe these exercises are already improving my writing, and I am only on paragraph seven. In the short story I wrote about the baptism of Hanniba'al, my first foray into dark fantasy and horror, I could feel different directions that my intuition/subconscious was pulling me to go concerning the style. And so, the work continues.


Let's take a look at the first seven paragraphs from "Replay" by Ken Grimwood. Then we'll compare my first six paragraphs. And finally, I'll write my seventh paragraph.

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.

A decent house would be nice, too, maybe one of those stately old homes on Upper Mountain Road in Montclair that they'd driven past so many wistful Sundays. Or a place in White Plains, a twelve-room Tudor on Ridgeway Avenue near the golf courses. Not that he'd want to take up golf; it just seemed that all those lazy expanses of green, with names like Maple Moor and Westchester Hills, would make for more pleasant surroundings than did the on ramps to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the glide path into LaGuardia.

I'm not sure I've really set myself up for success on this one because of the changes I've made, but, we shall see.

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.

Let's take another look at that seventh paragraph from Grimwood.

A decent house would be nice, too, maybe one of those stately old homes on Upper Mountain Road in Montclair that they'd driven past so many wistful Sundays. Or a place in White Plains, a twelve-room Tudor on Ridgeway Avenue near the golf courses. Not that he'd want to take up golf; it just seemed that all those lazy expanses of green, with names like Maple Moor and Westchester Hills, would make for more pleasant surroundings than did the on ramps to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the glide path into LaGuardia.

And now, I shall begin.

A decent cup of coffee would be nice, too, maybe one of those mocha cappuccinos that he used to get on a lazy Sunday afternoon at the coffee shop slash bookstore in Montague. Or he could drive down to Grand Haven and drink it walking along the channel. Not that he particularly wanted to walk the channel; it just seemed that all of those rolling waves, cresting like ever rising and ever receding mountains, would make for more pleasant surroundings than an empty road lined with abandoned cars and a dark house.

Alright, I think that sounds fairly decent. Let's put my seven paragraphs together and see how they sound.

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.

A decent cup of coffee would be nice, too, maybe one of those mocha cappuccinos that he used to get on a lazy Sunday afternoon at the coffee shop slash bookstore in Montague. Or he could drive down to Grand Haven and drink it walking along the channel. Not that he particularly wanted to walk the channel; it just seemed that all of those rolling waves, cresting like tiny ever rising and ever receding mountains, would make for more pleasant surroundings than an empty road lined with abandoned cars and a dark house.

I made a change in paragraphs six and seven. I took out a comma and added an ellipses in paragraph six, and I added the word "tiny" in the last line of paragraph seven.

This is such an interesting exercise, it pushes my ability and I like it.

Join me on my next writing adventure at JeffreyAlexanderMartin.com

Popular posts from this blog

The Most Important Question in Philosophy - Part 4 of 4

Experiments in Story

Why I'm Reading Four Novels At the Same Time (plus one non-fiction book)