I was told I was a good writer from a young age, and throughout school, including writing grants and a co-first-author manuscript in graduate school, I always felt I had a knack for writing. I never took English after 12th grade, or any other class that tested my writing skill and pushed it to new heights, and I probably would have known I couldn’t rival the florid, literary styles of trained writers during and after college, but I always excelled at what I had to write about—science. I’ve become somewhat more acutely aware of my shortcomings as a writer of mature, contemplative, moving, literary prose in recent years, so I’ve tried to make a more conscious effort to notice and absorb sentences and phrases that have that professional, mature, advanced style and leave a memorable impression on me. Here are the first batch of examples that I’ve jotted down:
The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
—Stephen King, The Gunslinger, in what he has described as his personal best opening line of a novel.
He did not take the flint and steel from his purse until the remains of the day were only fugitive heat in the ground beneath him and a sardonic orange line on the monochrome horizon.
—Stephen King, The Gunslinger
At nineteen, it seems to me, one has a right to be arrogant; time has usually not begun its stealthy and rotten subtractions.
—Stephen King, Introduction to the revised version of The Gunslinger
HuangShan has apparently beckoned China’s sages, poets, and contemplatives for ages, and I look forward to crafting my own thoughts as we hike to the top, spend the night, and rise early to see what I’ve been told is one of the most beautiful sunrises in China.
—Melanie in a recent blag post
We are just another set of “big noses” (which is apparently how the Chinese view foreigners) who flail their arms strangely, trying unsuccessfully to communicate.
In China, by contrast, the iconic role model is the sage who listens and waits. This person is patient, passive, and silent, yet in that time and space can hear the language of the universe.
The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.”
—In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Signor Verdi has moved her—not just with the tunes of his Requiem, but with the dawning understanding that this monumental work of music, this architecture of sounds to rival the Royal Albert Hall itself, was written on smudgy sheets of paper by a single person: an old Italian fellow with hair in his eyes. The rumble of double-basses that reverberated in her abdomen was caused directly by him putting pen to paper, probably late at night as he sat in his shirt-sleeves, Signora Verdi snoring in the next room. It’s a kind of male power she hasn’t thought about before, a power sublimely uninterested in subjugating her or putting her to use or putting her in prison, a power whose sole aim is to make the air vibrate with pleasure.
—Michel Faber, The Crimson Petal and the White