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  1. #1
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    Sublime Sentence Exercise

    This one from Mary Gaitskill's "Because They Wanted To."

    I'm going to quote three sentences, although it's the last two, which are really part of the same non-fragmented sentence (I think) that I love.

    "The sunlight shifted, and the surface of the table became warm and bright. Elise extended her arms into the warmth; her pale arm hairs stood up in the air, and the sight made her feel tender toward herself. All those thousands of tiny follicles, each earnestly keeping its special hair going."

    To analyze this...

    I'll first go with the alliteration that I failed to see in an example before. Sunlight, shifted, surface. Then we have a bunch of other prominent "s" sounds with EliSe, eXtended, hairS, Stood, Sight, herSelf, thoSe, thouSands, follicleS, earneStly, itS, Special. I don't know, but that's a lot of "s" sounds, so I assume they add something.

    Second, I'll go with the sensory stuff, which I missed before. We have touch and sight, then more touch and sight. Gaitskill even tells us with "the sight made her feel" that these are the two senses she's focusing on.

    But I guess why I love this sentence is that it's an interesting combination of telling and showing, and the showing is odd enough to stand out.

    I'm still a bit at a loss. Anyone else have insight here? I'm not sure I have enough to apply to a WIP sentence.

    BTW, finished The Moviegoer. I did like it beyond great writing. The ending was quiet and, maybe, truthful. The book took me through a saggy period in one guy's life with a lot of insight and brought me to his resolution -- that's life, nothing like the movies, heroism in everyday acts.

    Anyone want to play with this sentence with me?



  2. #2
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    Re: Sublime Sentence Exercise

    All of that mention of hair made me think that it was all fur Elise.

  3. #3
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    Re: Sublime Sentence Exercise

    Entschuldigen sie, Joe? Du bist ein (can't remember German for crouching) dummkopf.

    I'm scouring my dreadful sentences in current WIP scene, and, once again, the first comment is another meh bit; disguised but still meh.

  4. #4
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    Re: Sublime Sentence Exercise

    CK,

    I think Joe was making a joke.

    Your reply, while I don't read or speak German, appears to be saying something like, "Joe, are you a crouching dummy." Perhaps I'm entirely mistaken. Have been before. Will be again.

    I'm not as analytical as you about sentences. With no context, I wouldn't comment except to say it didn't increase my heartbeat.

    Anyway, others will likely have comments you find stimulating.

    Cur

  5. #5
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    Re: Sublime Sentence Exercise

    Cur,

    I wrote, Excuse me, Joe, you're a crouching dumbhead." Or something like that. (My German on crouching is long lost, if ever learned, and dumbhead is waffling about.) But because I wrote it in German it's far more cool and joke-ish.)

    Okay, so I try to post something provocative and get two meh-ing posts.

    Are there any folks here who don't mey as a rule?

    You know, Cur and Joe, if you aren't into the craft of sentences, why post? You just want to dissuaded discussion for those who do find such things interesting? How does that serve you? Go scribble away in your journals and leave the nuance of cool sentences to those of us who care.

    Really Cur, I thought you were more into reinvigorating this board. You got something worthy, post your own thread. You just want to turn my thread into another zone for the vapid...well, I guess you did. You're so cool. And I'll learn so much!

  6. #6
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    Re: Sublime Sentence Exercise

    CK,

    Consider me vapid, as you suggest.

    I merely said the sentence didn't get my pulse up. Joe made a pretty good joke.

    BTW, odds are you're Martin Shaw.

    Good to see you back, Lurch.

    Cur

  7. #7
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    Re: Sublime Sentence Exercise

    CK,

    Thank you for a fond memory. I read that book many years ago, and when you posted that sentence, it reminded me of why I loved it so.

    Okay--more analysis here. I think there is something else going on here, more subtle than alliteration or straight forward sensory experience. It's the balance of weightless and heavy, light and dark, and a strong sense of movement that gives the scene a vibrant energy.

    "The sunlight shifted, and the surface of the table became warm and bright. Elise extended her arms into the warmth; her pale arm hairs stood up in the air, and the sight made her feel tender toward herself. All those thousands of tiny follicles, each earnestly keeping its special hair going."

    To break it down...

    The word "sunlight" lacks substance. We are talking about something ethereal. But a table is solid, sturdy, a grounding force. The solid, base object is transformed by the ethereal presence, if you will. The same thing happens again with the juxtaposition of arms (solid) and warmth (lacking substance). And then you see it again in the next sentence, but the solid is becoming less so: "arm hairs" (a solid object) stand up in the "air" (no substance). Perhaps the power of the ethereal is transforming weighted objects to weightless, no? The last sentence adds a frenetic movement to the transforming force: "thousands of follicles" (too many to measure moving too quickly to see) each earnestly (an interesting choice of words, since the last emotional word was "tender") keeping its special hair going.

    To me, this short excerpt is a beautiful example of transformation. Just my thoughts...

    Jeanne

  8. #8
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    Re: Sublime Sentence Exercise

    Actually, I've no reason not to discuss the sentences, but I couldn't resist the chance to make a bilingual pun. The fact that I was able to do it without actually knowing one of the two languages (No, I don't speak German.) made it even more irresistible.

  9. #9
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    Re: Sublime Sentence Exercise

    I know nothing about C K aside from what I've seen on the boards (both under her present and former forum names), but I can say with pretty high assurance that she's not martin shaw.

    I see what you mean about the alliteration, C K, but if the writer was striving for that in constructing the sentence, it may explain why I have such a different reaction to the second part of this passage than I do to the first part. The writer has me right up to the mention of the pale arm hairs standing up, and then with the unnecessary "...in the air" and onwards I'm sort of seeing the writer writing and not the scene she's trying to depict. And "special hair"? The sentence may sound interesting spoken aloud, but on the page it just doesn't come across well to me.

    In a similar vein, however, here's an opening paragraph I've always dearly loved:

    "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

    The beats, the alliteration (hole/hobbit, wet/worms, sandy/sit down, hobbit-hole), the pauses and build-up and definitive ending - this just works for me. And "an oozy smell"!

  10. #10
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    Re: Sublime Sentence Exercise

    "All those thousands of tiny follicles, each earnestly keeping its special hair going."

    That bit pretty much blew away any comfy mood I was starting to feel and made me laugh. The idea of a follicle being earnest, that's funny. Also, the word "follicle" has a clinical, scientific sound to it that grated against the mood. And "keeping going"...about as empty language as you can find.

    Didn't like "the sunlight shifted" either, but that's probably just because the piece is taken out of context. It sounds like the sunlight moved to spotlight the table in a few seconds, which does not happen.

    Other than that, it's okay.

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