Friday, February 18, 2011

Anaya, A Writer Worth Imitating

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach

An excellent way to become a better word craftsman is to imitate acclaimed professionals. Rudolfo Anaya is one worthy craftsman. His frequently contested and award-winning novel, Bless Me, Ultima (1972), opens with these words:

“When she [Ultima] came the beauty of the llano unfolded before my eyes, and the gurgling waters of the river sang to the hum of the turning earth. The magical time of childhood stood still, and the pulse of the living earth pressed its mystery into my living blood.”

Immediately, Anaya establishes the beauty and majesty of the natural world. He also suggests the powerful changes that his protagonist, Antonio, will undergo under the influence of Ultima. His words draw readers on to read more, in part because of the word choices and word order. By studying Anaya’s words and trying to create your own message according to Anaya’s model, you will become increasingly adept at writing and rewriting your messages because new patterns will become possibilities in your own repertoire.

The Exercise:

Imitate Anaya’s pattern by substituting your own words for the important ones in Anaya’s passage. For example, in the sample below, the words in bold font represent my substitutions for Anaya’s parts of speech whereas words not in bold font are the same as those Anaya chose. Note that the significant parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives) are the ones altered.

An Example:

When the moon rose the beauty of the night sky opened above me, and the glistening stars of the galaxy pulsed to the rhythm of my fleeting courage. The terrifying time of darkness came unbidden, and the shadows of the infected beast forced its will into my mutating form.

(Yes, I’m guilty--guilty of pandering to the popular interest in werewolves [Team Jacob] and vampires [Team Edward]).

Another example takes a very different direction:

When Mother baked the warmth of the hearth spread beyond my fingers, and the simmering water in the tea kettle sang of good flavors in the brewing leaves. The comforting time after school lives still, and the love of a generous woman ingnites my fading memory.

I am not satisfied with either sample. Anaya uses his own pattern to better effect, of course, but the challenge of choosing words and placing them in a certain order helps me string together my own lovely words now and then. So struggle to create your own message in the image of Anaya.

Here’s one more Anaya model: “The ways of men are strange, and hard to learn.”

Reading Challenge:

Read Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. It is a beautiful story about a young boy trying to fit in and find his way.

An alternate reading selection is Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte. This book provides countless patterns and models for writers to study and imitate.

Writing Challenge:

This post is a writing challenge. Keep trying to invent messages using Anaya’s word order.

Grammar, Usage and Mechanics (GUM):

As you imitate Anaya or any other author, you will struggle with grammar (although we certainly do not need to label parts of speech to succeed) and with English usage so let your struggle be the GUM lesson for this post.