Just when you think Poynter Institute senior scholar Clark, who has written some of the best books on the writer’s craft, has covered everything related to the subject, he digs deep into literature and excavates a gold mine of artistic strategies for great writing.
While his last book, How to Write Short (2013), examined pithy prose in today’s ubiquitous media, this illuminating volume focuses on superb writing through the centuries. Readers may not consider the work of ancient poets Homer and Virgil as examples of cinematic writing, but these scribes, who zoom in and out of scenes with words, have a lot to teach us. Clark cites a passage from Virgil’s The Aeneid that describes a raging storm at sea, noting that centuries “before anyone dreamed of the aerial shot or…special effects…there was Virgil creating in language the vertiginous seascape of the drowning sailors.” Clark also has a flair for language as he describes one of Virgil’s “amazing” sentences as “coiling and uncoiling like the serpents it describes, directing our eyes back and forth, in and out, from the action of the serpents to the movements of the sea, then close enough to see eyes of blood and fire.” The Great Gatsby yields an intricately built architecture in which F. Scott Fitzgerald plants “strategic treasures”—words and images—at the end of his first chapter that are echoed in the luminous, oft-quoted last four paragraphs of the novel. Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, writes Clark, school us in the uses of foreboding and foreshadowing. Gustave Flaubert employed small gestures and domestic details to reveal Emma Bovary’s frame of mind. In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer demonstrates poetic flow in his ecstatic descriptions of spring. Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye offers the lyrical use of repetition, not to be confused with redundancy.
With lively, colorful writing and inspired practical advice, this guide earns a spot along with Clark’s Writing Tools (2006) as essential reading for writers. Recommended for book lovers as well.