There is nothing that thrills me more than a perfectly written sentence or paragraph. The kind that just stops you in your tracks. Words that you have to re-read two or three times and savour before you can carry on!
I tend to burn through books at breakneck speed so anything that makes me slow down and STOP, even for a second is to be treasured. In fact, sometimes I feel a little like Indiana Jones, uncovering these gems from where they are hidden in a sea of words.
So what exactly is it that makes a bit of prose just that little bit snappier than its peers? What makes it stand out from the crowd? Well I think it can be many things.
It can be a bit of cleverness – the kind where you pat yourself on the back for ‘getting it’ when maybe others wouldn’t. It can be a piece of terse dialogue where you can picture the exact expression on the character’s face as they deliver it. It can be the imperceptible shake of a head that speaks volumes.
Mostly though it is those bits where you think if someone made this book into a movie, there is no way they could adequately convey what this sentence just did. You’ve heard people say that a picture speaks a thousand words? Well I am sorry, but sometimes words just do it better.
Recently I’ve taken to marking these words with a post-it note just so I can come back and be inspired by them when battling writer’s block. Or even just to re-savour them! Here are a few of my favourites:
From Bill Bryson who has turned self-deprecation into an art form purely for the entertainment of his readers:
“I am not, I regret to say, a discreet and fetching sleeper. Most people when they nod off look as if they could do with a blanket. I look as if I could do with medical attention.” [From Down Under]
Or here’s Kylie Ladd in Last Summer when her character Joe is forced to take matters into his own hands after his advances are continually rebuffed by his wife:
“Joe climaxed in a rush, then leaned against the shower screen catching his breath. You knew things were desperate when you found yourself fantasising about f*cking your own wife.”
And finally, this from Peter Mayle in A Year in Provence. I have many post-it notes scattered throughout this entirely delightful book as Mayle can turn a phrase like few others. This paragraph is my favourite because it echoes something I think we’ve all done in our dreams:
“In the end, it had happened quickly – almost impulsively – because of the house. We saw it one afternoon and had mentally moved in by dinner.”
Kelly is a designer, writer and lover of all books – great and small. She is also a reformed over-committer and blogs about this at A Life Less Frantic.
So what about you? Do you find yourself wanting to get the highlighter out when you’re reading a book? Who are the authors that make you stop and just savour their work?