In our local writers’ group Mimi and I have been experimenting with different approaches . So far, we have assigned free-writing exercises and discussed writing technique. Lately we have added critique. But we decided that looking at examples of good writing would be more useful than just talking. So for yesterday’s meeting, I pulled out the best-written book from last month’s book club meeting to see what we could find.
We picked the first paragraph in Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders, a novel about a small town in England during the Bubonic Plague.
Writers are often advised to show, not tell, but learning how can be a challenge. We asked the students to examine the passage and identify techniques used to make the scene interesting and realistic. Some students criticized parts of it. And no writing style will please everyone.
In our evaluation form, the participants mentioned how much they enjoyed the exercise, so I am sharing it with you.
I used to love this season. The wood stacked by the door, the tang of its sap still speaking of forest. The hay made, all golden in the low afternoon light. The rumble of the apples tumbling into the cellar bins. Smells and sights and sounds that said this year it would be all right: there’s food and warmth for the babies by the time the snows came. I used to love to walk in the apple orchard at this time of the year, to feel the soft give underfoot when I trod on a fallen fruit. Thick, sweet scents of rotting apple and wet wood. This year, the hay stooks are few and the woodpile scant, and neither matters much to me. — Geraldine Brooks, Year of Wonders.
I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts.
Brooks is married to the hilarious Tony Horwitz, author of Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before and Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. She recently published People of the Book: A Novel about the Sarajevo Haggadah.