08 October 2012

Great Sentences

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

When you're reading a book that you really enjoy, do you sometimes find that you STOP and reread a sentence? Maybe it's simplicity caught your eye. Maybe you know that it completely conveys the character, the scene, the motive, that it just rings as true.

I was rereading a book by my friend Susan Rogers Cooper last week. The book is A Crooked Little House," published in 1999. Now, I've read Susan for years, actually since 1990 when we had our mystery bookstore and she came out for our Grand Opening. I had not met her before but we had a hard copy of her second book Houston In The Rearview Mirror. I asked her to sign it and from that point on Susan and I became friends. I read everything she wrote usually before it even came out. I tell you all this to let you know that just because I know and love her like a sister, it has no bearing on the sentences in CLH that grabbed, and gave me the idea for this article. It's actually three short paragraphs, but it conveys the geographic location so vividly.

"I love a good storm. I always have. It energizes me--the drama of it, the excitement of it. Rain without lightening and thunder is just wet, but put the three together, and you have a night's entertainment a hell of a lot more stimulating than dinner and a movie. And sex during a storm is nothing to sneeze at--in case you weren't aware of this.
Since we'd moved to central Texas, there was a certain sadness for me about storms. In Houston, where I was born and raised and where I gave birth to my children, you can expect rain just about anytime. Droughts in Houston are such a rarity as to be laughable.
Not in central Texas. Each storm of spring could be the last one until fall;enjoy the one coming because you may forget what it's like before the next storm."

It's words like that which make me want to be a writer. To be able in a few words to convey a feeling of storms, of living where there are few storms. To feel the heat on your skin and body for weeks and months and the longing for a good rain. Many writers can do this and I admire each and every one of them.

David Baldacci's latest paperback, Zero Day gives a description of a woman that is excellent in my opinion.

"Samantha Cole was not in uniform. She was dressed in faded jeans, white T-shirt, a WVU Mountaineers windbreaker, and worn-down calf-high boots. The butt of a King Cobra double-action .45 revolver poked from inside her shoulder holster. It was on the left side, meaning she was right-handed. She was a sliver under five-three without boots, and a wiry one-ten with dirty blonde hair that was long enough to reach her shoulders. Her eyes were blue and wide; the balls of her cheekbones were prominent enough to suggest Native American ancestry. Her face had a scattering of light freckles.
She was an attractive woman but with a hard,cynical look of someone to whom life had not been overly kind."

Wow. Short but so powerful. You know you'd know Samantha if you met her anywhere. There's no reason to describe someone with sentences and paragraphs and words and words. Just find the important little details that can make a character a real person to the reader.

One more example and it's a song lyric, which might sound strange but it's just one that really grabbed me. The song is "Utopia" written by John Greenberg & Bill Murry and is sung by singer/song writer, john Arthur martinez. jAm came in 2nd on the TV show Nashville Star, a few years ago and is a friend and neighbor of mine.

"For 15 battered years we lived out of a pick-up truck. When she told me to make my bed I'd just put the tail-gate up."

Okay, maybe it's just me, but those twenty-five simple words convey so much. I know each of you have favorite sentences and paragraphs that move you or excite you or inspire you. I've shown you some of mine and now you can show me some of yours.





6 comments:

Fran Rizer said...

Jan, I agree with you about certain sentences just grabbing you and showing much more than what the words say. One of my favorites has no class at all, but since I was a child, Mickey Spillane's opening line, "The guy was dead as hell," has been one of my favorites. I that one line shows exactly what to expect in the book. And yes, I read Mickey Spillane as a child, along with William Faulkner, who also had some amazing lines though most of them were too long for me to quote from memory. Can't forget the opening line of Huck Finn either.

Leigh Lundin said...

Here are several of my favorites: [1] [2] [3]

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Jan, I totally agree about certain song lyrics. Waiting for a movie to start last night and stuck listening to the theater's mostly awful sound track, I heard something that made me sit up and take notice--a lyric and a voice. Thanks to Google, I found it: Passenger (the stage name of British singer-songwriter Mike Rosenberg) singing "Let Her Go."
"You only need the light when it's burning low/Only miss the sun when it starts to snow/Only know your lover when you let her go."

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Correction: about the sixth time I listened to the song, it occurred to me it's "Only know you love her when you let her go."

Eve Fisher said...

"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were."
"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."
“I couldn't be fonder of you if you were my own son. But, well, if you lose a son, its possible to get another. There's only one Maltese Falcon."

Fran Rizer said...

Eve reminded me of a line that I used to quote all the time (before I became a little OLD southern lady). In younger years, I was fond of saying, "As Clark Gable said, 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn!"