Advanced Composition: Imitating Great Writers
The class helped write the two duplicate paragraphs. Following
their faithful copy, you can find detailed comments on the craft
evident in the writing of Carol Shields and Jack London.
A haze hung in the air, and only a little natural light entered
from the tiny street-level windows. The room was timeless; it could
have been a student apartment from my own generation, a place of
ripped vinyl, worn chenille, posters taped to the walls, stacks of
books and papers, rising stours of dust.—Carol Shields in her novel,
A brisk breeze entered from the windows, the fluorescent lights
humming above the diligent, hard-working students. The room was
spacious; it could only have been in an old Canadian high school, a
place of wooden tables, plastic chairs, posters pinned to the walls,
echoing voices of teachers. —written by Brad Hyde with ideas from
The above is a fairly faithful copy of the structure used by
Carol Shields done for a similar purpose: establishing setting with
good description. Look at her first sentence and any student of poetry
will find two sets of alliteration, on “haze” and “hung” and on
“little” and “light.” In the sentence, the author sets the stage,
giving us the overall lighting effect and creating an atmosphere.
In the second, 36-word sentence, Carol Shields shows her mastery
of the semicolon. Note how she gives the generalization “was timeless”
before the semicolon and then brings the description to life with
concrete objects, ending on an unusual word, “stours,” which though
difficult, is easily guessed by the avid reader as meaning,
approximately, “swirls of dust.”
Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway.
The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering
of frost, and they seemed to lean toward each other, black and
ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the
land.—Jack London, White Fang, 1906
Chilly breezes frolicked in and around the rows of the spacious
classroom. The sleepy students had been tired from their recent
Social Studies Law Unit, and they seemed to have difficulty staying
awake, exhausted and weary, in the late afternoon class. Outside,
the weather was beautiful!—written by Brad Hyde with ideas from the
First thing we notice is the personification of the forest by
using a verb, "frowned" to describe a forest on two sides of a river.
From this, we get a strong feeling of something wrong or bad.
Secondly, we notice the alliteration of "frozen" and "frowned." Then,
in the second sentence we get more details of why it is so dark. and
two adjectives are placed between commas to emphasize them. Also, the
sentences are 10, 30 and 7 words in length: medium, long, short. Our
copy mimics London's style.
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