Opening Sentences, Scene Descriptions, and Dialect

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The muse mojo refuses to come out and play today. Anne Lamott said, “All I know is that if I sit long enough, something will happen,“ but so far that hasn’t been my experience today. I’ve been jumping up and down to straighten books on a bookcase and going through a couple of drawers finding treasures to take to Goodwill. Then I checked Facebook to see where my friend Connie’s travels across country have taken her so far, and before I knew it, I started obsessing over how yummy saltine crackers and crunchy peanut butter would taste. Weak and undisciplined, I went downstairs to the kitchen to fix this snack.

Have you ever had days like that? It’s not exactly writer’s block. It’s more like an inability to concentrate on the task at hand. What I want to do is continue answering “Rosa’s Question,” a post I began a couple of weeks ago. Instead, I keep thinking about some wonderful books I’ve been reading and/or listening to. Each of them has something special about it that I might not have paid that much attention to before joining a writing group.

While sitting on the beach early Saturday morning, I opened Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and read the first line. “In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.” And then I read the second line. “Early every morning they would come out of the house where they lived and walk arm in arm down the street to work.” I was hooked. McCullers then describes each man in such detail that I could picture them in my mind, one round and oily and the other tall and immaculate. Although I’ve chosen this to read while sitting on the beach listening to squawking birds, squealing children, and a roaring sea, it’s not what I’d classify as a “beach read.” It’s heavy and serious, at least so far. Maybe that’s why I enjoy reading it in the sunlight.

At night I’m reading Patricia Highsmith’s  Strangers on a Train on my iPad. Recommended by Will Schwalbe in The End of Your Life Book Club, it was delivered by Whispernet to my device seconds after ordering it.  Highsmith’s character descriptions of Guy and Bruno are so rich in detail that I would be able to recognize them immediately if I were to be at a train station waiting for one of them. “…like his black hair that grew high and loose on top and lay close in back. The rise of hair and the slope of his long nose gave him a look of intense purpose and somehow of forward motion….” And that’s just Guy’s head. Highsmith hasn’t even mentioned his eyes, mouth, size, or clothes yet!

Julia Peterkin’s Scarlet Sister Mary is a book I’m supposed to be re-reading for an upcoming book club meeting. Although I haven’t yet found it on my shelves today, I can still remember how impressed I was with Peterkin’s gifted use of the Gullah dialect when I first read this novel over a decade ago. Another little tip I’ve picked up from associating with “writer friends” is that writing authentic-sounding dialogue can be tricky and that writing in another dialect is quite a challenge. Peterkin was a master at this.

In the car, I’m listening to Anne Patchett’s State of Wonder. While I occasionally find my attention drifting, for the most part I’m enjoying Marina’s foray into the Amazon and have learned a lot about various insects and the claustrophobic feel of the encroaching foliage in that part of the world. I can see the Lakashi people (especially the women as they chew on “fertility bark”), and I could sense the three doctors’ sheer terror when the anaconda was wrapped around Easter. Is Dr. Swenson really pregnant at 73? Will she live through this? If she does, will the child stay behind in the Amazon somewhere, the child of a brilliant scientist? From what I’ve learned about writing scene descriptions, State of Wonder excels. From what I’ve learned about plot, the jury’s still out.

Too much to think about. It’s time to begin Phillip Caputo’s The Longest Road, the story of the author’s travels from Florida to Alaska. He set out to discover more about America’s vastness and diversity, and I’m hoping to experience Caputo’s adventure vicariously.

About jayne bowers

*married with children, stepchildren, grandchildren, in-laws, ex-laws, and a host of other family members and fabulous friends *semi-retired psychology instructor at two community colleges *writer
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