When does the work, work?

When I read a book or article that really works, I try to sit down and analyze what made it effective.  Sometimes it’s a matter of style.  I discovered that my favorite writer, Richard Powers, achieves his effectiveness in descriptive passages by layering lengthening clauses, one tucked inside the next, unfolding to a final expression of expansive impact.  Another writer I admire, Jeff Sharlet, wrote a couple of terribly effective non-fiction works by correlating a lot of previously unconnected information.  Another book did not manage to make the new connections explicit, and it was not as effective.

A couple of times, when I find a sentence that encapsulates its theme particularly well, I tear it apart to learn from it.  I don’t diagram it formally, but I do analyze its grammatical content.  I try to write another sentence using identical structure, to see where it takes me. I examine its relationship to the preceding sentence, and to the following sentence.  This practice sometimes is rewarding with my favorite writers, but it can be equally rewarding for sentences and paragraphs by hack writers, in blogs, in random acts of literacy.


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