Thursday, March 18, 2010

Storytelling

Mom tells me that, in my back story, our next door neighbor asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I told her, "an author." Apparently I've wanted to be a writer not since I can remember, but LONGER than I can remember. Mrs. Lee thought it very odd that a six-year-old would have such aspirations instead of nurse, teacher or some other usual answers. I guess I've always loved words and stories and reading. The thing is, I'm a terrible storyteller.

So now I'm reading something lighter with less literary element - or so I thought. I've picked up The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. The story is lighter, but the method of telling is getting very complex.

Cassandra is a woman who's trying to figure out the mystery of her grandmother's origins because the grandmother dies before she could figure it all out herself. Meanwhile, we're flashing back to the grandmother's childhood to learn all that she had known, and we are also flashing back to the grandmother's grandmother's childhood. What is that-five generations? The complexity brings interest and needed depth to the story.

I'm also beginning to notice the beautiful writing. If I were this story's teller, Chapter Seventeen would open like this:
Cassandra reached England, and the sights and sounds overwhelmed her senses.


But Morton opens the chapter with this stunning bit:
Cassandra had known the buses would be red, of course, and double-decked, but to see them trundling by with destinations like Kensington High Street and Piccadilly Circus above their front windows was nonetheless startling. Like being droppped into a storybook from her childhood, or one of the many films she'd watched where black beetle-nosed taxis scurried down cobbled lanes, Edwardian terraces stood to attention on wide streets and the north wind stretched thin clouds across a low sky.


What a stupendous paragraph! (And what a geek I am! I'm actually excited about good writing.) Are you even still reading? Well, good, because there's more.

In the back story of the back story, the grandmother's grandmother had a childhood twin who dies in a horse accident and the author tells of the little girl's adjustment to his being gone from her life like this:
In the daytime, it was as if the world had been turned inside out, like a garment on the line. All was the same shape, size and color, but utterly wrong nonetheless.

Simply amazing.

In describing how she deals with her grief, she goes on to say,
Then she folded his memory as gently as she could, wrapped it in layers of emotion-joy, love, commitment-for which she no longer had need, and locked the whole deep inside her. Being empty of such memories and emotions felt right somehow. For with Sammy's death Eliza was half a person. Like a room robbed of candlelight, her soul was cold, dark and empty.

Can I just say, "WOW!" here? I don't know if this author has lost a sibling way too young in life, but I have, and these sentiments are spot-on, the imagery haunting, and the sorrowful tone sheer perfection.

How do writers do this? They craft their words so eloquently and string together ideas and imagery that seem pulled from randomness, but make beautiful, brilliant sense. The result is effortless, natural, and perfectly flawless wordsmithing. I'm jealous.

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