Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wait. Look. Notice.

I just finished reading Michael Scott's young adult fantasy, The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas FlamelScott's novel is one of this month's selections for Anderson's Bookshop's Not for Kids Only Book Club, and a nominee for the Illinois Rebecca Caudill Book Award 2011.  While reading Chapter 6, I was struck by the following lines:
Josh was about to take a step toward the door when Flamel's iron hand clamped onto his shoulder.
      "Don't move," he murmured. "Wait. Look. Notice. If you keep those three words in mind, you just might survive the next few days."
Nicholas Flamel's words to 15-year-old Josh stop him from entering what we soon learn is a booby-trapped hallway. In reading these lines, I was struck, in particular, by the three one-word sentences:
Wait. Look. Notice.
So I paused to consider why these sentences caught my attention. Here are a few of the reasons I came up with:
  • The short sentences have an arresting effect on both Josh (causing him to physically stop) and the reader (causing us to wonder what danger lies ahead).
  • As dialogue, they fit the personality/speech patterns already established for the character Nicholas Flamel.
  • They increase tension.
  • They create a pause in the fast-paced action.
Interestingly, I'm usually annoyed when I read a series of one-word sentences, as in:
Don't. Even. Think. About. It.
I understand the intent, but I still don't like such sentences.
This is another reason why I paused after reading the above excerpt from The Alchemyst--I wanted to understand why, in this case, I wasn't bothered by the one-word sentences.

Perhaps the difference between these two sets of sentences is more obvious to you than it was to me at first:
Wait. Look. Notice. 
are true sentences, each made up of one-word imperative statements. On the other hand,  grammatically speaking,
Don't. Even. Think. About. It.
are not true sentences. (For a basic explanation of why, see this page.)

I think it's interesting that the difference bothered my internal grammarian even though my conscious mind couldn't put my finger on the reason why at first. Have any of you ever had a similar reaction? If so, please post a comment telling us about it.

Flamel's instructions: Wait. Look. Notice. happen to also be great advice for writers. I hope you'll put this advice to practice in the following Writing Workout.

But first, I have another one-word sentence for you: Remember! That is, remember that you have only until 11 pm (CST) this Friday, August 20, to enter our giveaway drawing for Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t), written by Barbara Bottner and illustrated by Michael Emberley. Read April's interview of Barbara for details.

Writing Workout

Wait. Look. Notice.
An exercise in "reading as a writer"
While I was a student at Vermont College, I was fortunate to hear a presentation by award-winning author Graham Salisbury. During his talk, Salisbury held up a small notebook and explained how he used it to record bits of writing he especially admired. I suggest you try something similar. The next time a piece of writing captures your attention, make a note of it, and think about why. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • What, specifically, about this writing caught my attention?
  • Is there some aspect of it I could imitate in my own writing?
Happy Writing!


Elaine AM Smith said...

I remember the road traffic advert we had in the UK. It started with:

So effective.

Carmela Martino said...

Yes, I've seen that, too. Thanks for reminding me, Elaine.

Mary Jo said...

I love the use of one word sentences. Punchy and modern, esp. when you're writing for teens. Thanks for the exercise - def. going to use this one!

Carmela Martino said...

You're welcome, Mary Jo!