Friday, October 15, 2010

When I say good writing, this is what I mean

"If he wanted, he could fire his .45 and nothing or nobody in the world would hear other than some deer or raccoons.  Least of all Tina Rutherford, the nineteen-year-old college student, white girl, he was both hoping and hoping not to find under the cloud of buzzards."

It's the placement that small word not that made me pause and admire this writer's mastery of craft.

If not was placed to the left of hoping--  he was both hoping and not hoping to find --it makes sense, scans well and it works.

But shifting to hoping and hoping not is elegant.  It's the difference between ice milk and ice cream.

This is the kind of writing that makes me slow down and pay attention.

It's from CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER by Tom Franklin, a book I first heard about at the Bookrageous podcast, and found at M is for Mystery in San Mateo.


Anne-Marie said...

The elegance is quite subtle. I like the imagery of the cloud of buzzards, too.

Nancy said...

"Hoping and hoping not" creates parallelism, whereas hoping and not hoping is a simply contrast. It's the difference between a basic thought and a complex literary tool.

Amy Ashley said...

Great example! I like your comparison between milk and ice cream. This is the kind of stuff we should all be striving for.

Taymalin said...

It's funny, I read it as not hoping on my first read through. My brain has a nasty habit of rearranging words on me, I still get the message, but apparently I'm missing out on some of the finer details of my craft.

Heather Eagar said...

Thanks for your post! It helps me realize how important even just one word is.

Steve Stubbs said...

You are easy to please. The images are great. I am sure it is just a matter of taste but I would leave them off and do something like this:

NN was in a place so isolated he could shoot his .45 and nobody would hear. Except possibly Tina Rutherford. He was sure Tina was out there somewhere. He was worried if he fired his gun he might hit her. He was much more worried she might already have been shot by someone else.

ryan field said...

It's interesting how sometimes it just takes one well written line, or even the placement of one word, to make a reader feel this way.

Unknown said...

Actually I think "hoping and not hoping to find" means something different from "hoping and hoping not to find." "Not hoping" is neutral and passive (the absence of a particular hope), whereas "hoping not" is an active hope against finding the girl. I'd argue that it's the difference between water and ice cream.

Unknown said...

Darn! For a second I thought I was reading a sneak preview of a Dan Krokos manuscript.

Oh well, I guess Tom Franklin will do for now. ;)

JD Horn said...

Sorry, I have thought about this one all weekend, and I am just not feeling it. I find the construction of everything that brings me to the "hoping and hoping not" convoluted and clumsy.

First, I would switch the position of nothing with nobody. As is, deer and racoons seem to be referred to as people. The "in the world" is superfluous.

"Least of all Tina Rutherford" I would rework as "Certainly not Tina Rutherford." Unless, in the narrator's eyes, Tina should be valued as being worth less than a racoon. In any case, it strikes me as an awkward transition.

I don't read these hardboiled mysteries, so maybe I am just unfamiliar with the style. All I know is if I picked up this novel, and read the first sentence, my eyes would cross and I would return it to the stacks.

Janet Reid said...

CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER isn't a hard-boiled mystery at all. It's a suspense novel.

Also, that sentence isn't the first one. It's in the first chapter, but it's not the first.

Pick up the book and read the first chapter. I bet you a dollar you'll change your mind.

Hardygirl said...

Hi Janet!

Tom lives a couple of blocks away. I just forwarded the link to your post to him. Amazing book by a great writer!

Sarah Frances Hardy

JD Horn said...

Okily. I'll give it a shot. Just popped a sample on my Kindle. I can be right particular though, so keep that coin purse handy. :)

Dave said...

It's interesting that hoping not to leaps off the page for you. That formulation is the norm in written and spoken English here in Ireland.

A search for the phrase in Ireland gets 12,900 results. For not hoping to, it's a mere 22.

Tom Franklin was brought up in Clarke County, Alabama. That state had more than its fair share of Scotch-Irish settlers in the 19th century. So, rather than being an instance of masterfully executed craft, perhaps hoping not to simply reflects the way the man talks.

By the way, Clarke is Irish. It's an anglicised version of O' Cleirigh, an ancient Irish surname. It means son of the cleric, clerk, or scholar.

Steve, tell me you're joking. Okay, tastes vary, but you've stripped a beautiful paragraph of its atmosphere and voice.

Corey Schwartz said...

Love this post! Linked to it from my blog :)

Anonymous said...

A sentence reading

" he was both hoping and not hoping to find..."

would be like saying "he was both kissing and not kissing".

When I have a sentence that causes me to stumble, I jettison the entire thing and write: "And that's when he saw the chicken!"

Works every time.

Chris Casey said...

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter?

My Mom was an self taught Country girl who educated herself and graduated from Nursing School in 1946.

When I was little she had a game for spelling State names as a way to teach spelling.

Mississippi was "M, I, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, I, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, I, Humpback, Hump Back, Hump Back, I."
Tennessee was something similar, but I can't remember the words for N. I look forward to reading this book, just to see what it relates to.

Unknown said...

Okay, this is not a snarky question. Really. Would you have wanted to see more of this based on the first five pages? Through the magic of Amazon I read the first five pages of CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER. First line is great. Then a weather description. Then a guy drinks coffee. Then he mows the grass! Then he takes care of the chic kens!! Then he shaves (during which we get a description, although not of him in the mirror). Then he drives to work. Nothing happens there, either. There are some nice lines. The chicken coop was originally built by his father as a Mother's Day gift. He can't own a gun, which tells us he's had problems with the law. Not much else. No conflict. No tension.

So, if this came in as part of an email submission would you have jumped on it or it would it have gotten a "not quite my glass of tea?" Why?