“A Hand in the Darkness”

Published September 10, 2012 by Elsa Pla


I won’t be able to post again until the 24th.

This is the last sentence inventory posting (refer to the post titled “The Sentence Inventory”). For now, at least. The point of the inventory is to study the way you or a favorite author constructs sentences and uses special effects (rhetorical devices, etc.).

Again, here’s the chart I created. Please feel free to modify it and use it.

Sentence Inventory

This time I chose to analyze the first four paragraphs (they’re very short) of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.

Here’s my filled-out chart:

Sentence Inventory – Filled 2

Mr. Gaiman’s prose is simple, subtle, and absolutely brilliant. In the opening scene he describes the cold and calculated murder of a man, his wife, their young daughter, and, possibly, their baby boy. But wait, this is a story written for children! Mr. Gaiman meets this challenge by avoiding graphic descriptions and making use of allusions and understatements, instead. For example: “The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.” There’s never any mention of blood and gore or actual violence, but the reader can easily imagine what has happened. Especially since the assassin’s name is Jack.

The passage is scary and suspenseful in the way old black and white movies used to be. Then there’s the surprise at the end of the scene: “That only left the little one, a baby barely a toddler, to take care of.” The killing is possibly not over! And the next victim is a baby! The reader is hooked.

The vocabulary is simple, with a few high-level words here and there. His sentences are varied, and the writing flows. It’s a wonderful read-aloud book. I love his use of short, straight-to-the-point statements. For example: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” “The hunt was almost over.” “One more and his task would be done.”

I also love the words and descriptions Mr. Gaiman uses to evoke the mood. For example: “Wisps of nighttime mist slithered and twined into the house through the open door.” Gorgeous writing.

After analyzing Mr. Gaiman’s work, I went and revised a passage from a story I’m working on. Here’s the revised version:

The drownings, the murder victims, and the hole in the middle made the lake a creepy and scary place, but also terribly interesting, in a morbid sort of way.  But they weren’t the reasons people stayed away at night.

The real reason was the ghost.

Those who had seen it described it as a woman in a wedding dress who appeared late at night, usually close to the water’s edge. Drownings usually followed these apparitions.

The night I saw her I was staying at my neighbor’s house.

I was babysitting my neighbor’s twins, and I was sleeping on a cot in their bedroom. Except I couldn’t sleep because I always have a hard time falling asleep in strange surroundings. So, instead, I was wide-awake, thinking depressing thoughts, as usual.

The twin’s bedroom door was partially open, and I could see down the hallway into the living room. Suddenly a light-green glow began to rise from beneath the living room’s floorboards. That by itself would have been enough to scare me into a parallel universe. But then a misty-white figure casually glided above the glow.

That’s when my brain exploded a little bit.

That’s it for the past week.

Because I’ve been studying sentence structure and fluency, I’d like to do the following exercise this week:

1- Choose a few short passages, each by a favorite author, and read them aloud.

2- Choose a passage from your own work and read it aloud. (This exercise works best if you read the passage aloud to someone else.)

3- Revise your passage by improving its fluency and poetic musicality.

Happy writing! 🙂

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