All Dolled Up: Reading, Writing, and Rhythm

Writing sometimes needs a bit of dolling up, I find.

I’ll read a sentence I’ve written and I think “Wow – I’m writing a modern version of the old Dick and Jane books.”

“See Spot run.” That’s the sentence I recall best.

But here’s more:

Jane said, “Oh, look!

See it go.

See it go up.”

It’s a wonder anybody wanted to read, or write, after an introduction to literature such as that!

But the truth is this: between the 1930s and the 1970s, most American children learned to read with a version of these cheesy books.

Subject. Verb. Object.

Easy enough. Lacking, however, lyrical beauty, this pattern of writing still crops up in many, many published books. Take Ernest Hemingway’s usual writing style:

Example 1.

They sat together at a table that was close against the wall near the door of the cafe and looked at the terrace where the tables were all empty except where the old man sat in the shadow of the leaves of the tree that moved slightly in the wind. A girl and a soldier went by in the street. The street light shone on the brass number on his collar. The girl wore no head covering and hurried beside him. (From “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place”)

Example 2.

We climbed down. It was clouding over again. In the park it was dark under the trees. (From The Sun Also Rises)

Hemingway escaped the horror of Dick and Jane, but his writing follows the pattern to a T. (A confession: I loathe Hemingway’s stuff.)

Varying sentence structure relieves the reader’s task. Why this is so, I’m not sure.

Like dancing, writing requires a certain musical lilt in order to flow, to lift up the soul.

Rhythmic prose, that’s what I’m after, both when I read and when I write. I try to wrap it all up in a free-flowing and color-rich shawl, fringe flapping and swirling here and there, moving from calm to storm.

I doll it up a bit, in other words.

How about you?

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