Are you a reader who values a writer's style as much as the meaning it conveys?

Are you a writer who seeks to refine your own style?

Would you like to improve your understanding of the techniques writers use to create beautiful sentences?

Welcome to the search for the perfect sentence!

Most readers and writers focus on the content of a piece--the ideas it conveys, the story it carries, the events it chronicles. "So many books, so little time" we readers chorus, rushing through our stories, newspapers, websites. "Is it finished?" we writers ask. "Have I written enough words? Have I gotten the content across?"

Here we'll focus on the style of writing more than its content. We'll slow down. We'll read very short passages, sometimes single sentences, and we'll savor their wordcraft. We'll examine why each word was chosen, how they were arranged into sentences, and how those sentences evoke our responses. In the process, I hope we'll become more careful, perceptive readers and more effective writers.

Beautiful writing is everywhere--on the sports page of the morning paper, in the novel that relaxes you at night, in your grandmother's love letters found in the attic. If you would like to contribute a passage for close reading, with or without your own interpretation of its techniques, please email me at

Friday, July 8, 2011

Revisiting Salinger

I picked up Franny and Zooey at the library yesterday, just in case I'm not reading enough books right now (the usual half dozen), and hadn't finished the first page when I found this gem: 

[It was] the weekend of the Yale game. Of the twenty-some young men who were waiting at the station for their dates to arrive on the ten-fifty-two, no more than six or seven were out on the cold, open platform. The rest were standing around in hatless, smoky little groups of twos and threes and fours inside the heated waiting room, talking in voices that, almost without exception, sounded collegiately dogmatic, as though each young man, in his strident, controversial turn, was clearing up, once and for all, some highly controversial issue, one that the outside, non-matriculating world had been bungling, provocatively or not, for centuries. 

I could do with fewer numbers here, but isn’t that last sentence wonderful? Doesn’t he just nail the know-it-all twenty-year-old we’ve all been?

Back with more soon…


  1. Jan, I work with a teenager, God love him, who is always trying to inform me. (aged 53) Every time I say something, he interjects with, "Let me tell you how..."

    When I mentioned the unusual chill of the pacific last summer he deigned to advise me, "You just need to know how to get in the water. You probably get in too slow, but if you jump in all at once..."

    Oh, and, Sub-woofers, spinning rims, and, "Black Ice" car freshener are the best way to pick up women, (he advised me) What are you doing next Saturday...?

    PS have I mentioned "Word Magic For Writers" to you? Cindy Rogers. It came in great stead when I ran out of your posts to read.


  2. Brilliant way of working it. Thanks for posting.