Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Another Lesson from All the Light We Cannot See

Anthony Doerr writes beautifully. I’ve celebrated his prose before. I’ve also used his novel, All the Light We Cannot See, for another lesson about showing and telling. Today’s lesson is also from Doerr’s novel.

Photo by Al Griffin
As we begin, read to identify writing rules broken. Read also to recognize the wonderful style that Doerr employs.

From “Bigger Faster Brighter” (Doerr, Anthony. “Key Pound.” All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel. Kindle ed. New York: Scribner, 2014. 695. Print.)

“Membership in the State Youth becomes mandatory. The boys in Werner’s Kameradschaften are taught parade maneuvers and quizzed on fitness standards and required to run sixty meters in twelve seconds. Everything is glory and country and competition and sacrifice.

Live faithfully, the boys sing as they troop past the edges of the colony. Fight bravely and die laughing.

Schoolwork, chores, exercise. Werner stays up late listening to his radio or driving himself through the complicated math he copied out of The Principles of Mechanics before it was confiscated. He yawns at meals, is short-termpered with the younger children. ‘Are you feeling okay?’ ask Frau Elena, peering into his face, and Werner looks away saying ‘Fine.’”

Broken Rules

The chapter opens with a state-of-being verb, becomes; we're often taught to prefer active verbs.
The second sentence of the first paragraph uses passive voice verbs.
Paragraph 3 opens with a fragment.
Dialogue is not set apart as its own paragraph, but instead appears inside paragraph 3.

Writing Delights

Natural alliterative touches adding emphasis; e.g., Membership/mandatory; required/run; sixty/seconds; math/Mechanics; Frau/face/Fin
Specific and concrete detail reveals the physical prowess the boys must demonstrate. They must be good at parade maneuvers, meet fitness standards, and run sixty meters in twelve seconds. The reader infers that academic prowess is not in vogue.
Juxtaposition of life and death in the boys’ song. They must live faithfully and die laughing, a sad song for mere boys to sing.
Juxtaposition of the boys’ life experience. They learn that “Everything is glory and country and competition and sacrifice,” but their actual experience is “Schoolwork, chores, exercise.”

Effective writers are not slaves to rules. They deftly handle language without sacrificing clarity.

Reading Challenge:

Read Anthony Doerr’s beautiful novel, All the Light We Cannot See, in order to admire the story and learn about the use of language.

Writing Challenge:

Use the passage quoted above. Imitate its word order and grammar with a subject of your own.

Connye Griffin writes My Writing and Editing Coach