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Quill PenTips for Writers by Brad Hyde

April 22, 2004

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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.

First Example

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, Unless

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 students

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.”

Second Example

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 students

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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