1. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    Why is this paragraph so great?

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Patra Felino, May 2, 2014.

    I rode on, and it was not long before I overtook him, riding as though he were pursued by the Devil, which he was. I spoke not a word when I unhorsed him, nor afterward, and I did not use my blade, though he drew his own. I hurled his broken body into a high oak tree, and when I looked back it was dark with birds.

    Why is this paragraph so great?

    Of course, if you think it isn’t, say why as well.

    But for fans, old and new, of this fine paragraph from Roger Zelazny’s thunderously good The Guns of Avalon, how does it so effectively capture the vengeance-dripping slaughter of a man in just three lines?

    I notice that not a word is wasted and there is a certain relentlessness to it, but beyond that I need your thoughts.
     
  2. MLM
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    MLM Banned for trolling

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    *shrugs*
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The first sentence isn't much. "As though pursued by the Devil" is a bit of a cliche, and it ends on a weak note: "which he was." That's fairly lame, but acceptable, especially in genre fiction where people aren't usually looking for great style. The next sentence begins with another cliche: "I spoke not a word." After that, though, it picks up: "and I did not use my blade, though he drew his own." That's much better than the first sentence. The best thing about this paragraph is that the narrator doesn't actually mention the actual killing, but rather talks around it. The last sentence is best, and Zelazny leaves us with a good image ("dark with birds") and a rhythm that works.

    It's not a great paragraph, but it's better than a lot of stuff I've read. It's better, I think, than the run-of-the-mill genre average. It could be an outstanding paragraph with some rewriting of the first sentence and the first bit of the second.

    All of this is simply my humble opinion, of course. :)
     
  4. We Are Cartographers
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    We Are Cartographers Active Member

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    .
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2014
  5. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you wanna talk about great paragraphs and "not wasting words" please read Amy Hempel:

    example:
    http://www.pifmagazine.com/1998/09/the-harvest/
     
  6. FrankieWuh
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    FrankieWuh Active Member

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    Mmm. Didn't like the first sentence. It was cliched and almost had me switching off. The following sentences caught me with their cold brutality, but overall, I've read better too.
     
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  7. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    This thread gives me hope that we might get an area for questions like this, eh @minstrel. I know we talked about it, but we didn't quite follow through with plans for making it happen. Maybe we can open that discussion up again soon? ;)

    As for the OP, I can't say I found it spectacular. It's functional, and it appeals to some people, but something about the first sentence threw me off. Regardez s'il vous plait:
    It uses a deliberately unclear construction. I would think that "riding as though.." was referring to the narrator, who has the action of the sentence, but it actually points back to "him." That is not a huge issue, really, and others may have gotten that right away. But then the narrator adds, "which he was." That weakens the line, imo, and makes me wonder if he is the devil or if it's just true that he's being pursued by one. I might have said something like, "...as though he were pursued by the devil, which was true..." or "as though he were pursued by the devil. And he was..." or just gotten rid of it altogether unless I found a way to incorporate it in another sentence. It's not a big issue, just not something that sparks my interest.

    "I spoke not a word..." is pretty cliche. It's almost more engaging to use a "normal" construction imo. However, everything after that is pretty interesting in content and functional in style.

    Like minstrel, I dig the lacuna here. The narrator completely talks around the potentially trite killing scene and gives us some really interesting imagery.

    None of that is to say, "oh, I can do better." Better is often a matter of preference. I think I have the potential to write just as well or better by my standards. I also think there is better out there, but that is not to put this down.
     
    Last edited: May 2, 2014
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  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, let's! :)

    The strongest word in the sentence is "devil." The whole sentence should end with "... pursued by the devil." I think the "which he was" bit should be either left out entirely or positioned earlier in the sentence. (Or, as you say, at the beginning of the next one.)

    This kind of thing might be nitpicking to some, but I care about it a lot, and I revise my own prose to eliminate duds like this as much as I can. Many writers, though, just don't seem to pay attention to these issues at all - they might not even see them. :(
     
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  9. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Honestly, I don't like the paragraph. It has brevity, which I admire, but it's flat and dull. It has no bite. No punch. No power. It attempts to be poetic, mainly the last line, but the notion it could be is quickly extinguished. Yeah, you know what goes on, but... meh...
     
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  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    See the reactions here? Prose style matters, people! ;)
     
  11. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Nitpicking, perhaps, but as the saying goes, "the devil is in the detail" or better yet, is predecessor "God is in the detail." Ah, I'll just go with Nabokov: "Caress the detail, the divine detail." ;)

    On a serious note, I think these things are rather overlooked. As long as it is grammatically correct and easy enough to understand, people can get away with it. Like you said, it's not bad, but it could be better. I'll have to comb my writing for weak spots like these. They tend to slip in either when we want to convey an idea that doesn't need conveying or to add balance to a sentence when we think it's off. A better approach might be to think about the strengths of the sentences to see what is called for.
     
  12. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    What I find sad, in a way, is that the OP genuinely (I believe) likes the paragraph and felt like sharing it. To have such negative reactions would be disheartening. I can imagine myself posting a piece of writing I really like only to have others not like it. Just an observation.
     
  13. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    And no, it doesn't evoke vengeance dripping slaughter at all. Just a guy knocked off a horse, killed and chucked in a tree. Doesn't even feel like vengeance. Just a mundane murder.

    But I do like the image of the crows (I assume) feeding on the corpse.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I felt that way, too. Maybe it's because what came BEFORE this paragraph really mattered, and that this portion of the scene provided a catharsis. Taking the paragraph out of context flattens it, but in context, maybe it worked very well?

    I mean, from this paragraph it isn't even clear this is vengeance at all. It could be anybody killing anybody. There is no emotional connection to the act. It's always a problem, taking bits of writing out of context, isn't it?
     
  15. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I hope we haven't disheartened or discouraged the OP. He is more than welcome to love this paragraph. Maybe, as @jannert suggests, it is more emotionally stimulating in context. Alone, the section presented is pretty good. Being completely honest, it works, but it doesn't give me chills mechanically, but I'm still realizing just what I like in literature.
     
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  16. Daba
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    Daba Member

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    Zelazny is a very specific author. My favorite, because of it. The bare sentences he writes are really not the best, actually when compared to say most other great authors of the genre, they are kind of mediocre. But they all serve a purpose, and no matter how detailed or how simple they are, while reading the piece (the whole piece) you know that they are just as should be. Everything he writes has a specific purpose within his story, and he really is not a type of author that goes too much in detail. In the case of his stories and the way he tells them, detail just gets in the way.

    And that's the reason why his lines will look plain when dragged out of context. They actually are, but they are just the way he wanted them. Even when he pulls out a cliche, he does it intentionally. And he is both hated and loved for it. However:

    “The day of battle dawned pink as the fresh-bitten thigh of a maiden.”
    I really must love a writer that describes things this way. :D
     
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  17. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    It's not a great paragraph IMO, but it's not as bad as some people are making it out to be. The last half of the paragraph is good. "dark with birds" is a great image.
     
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  18. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It's been brought up several times by several members (myself included in the Supporters Forum long ago) to "critique the Greats". It's clearly an idea with merit for it to come up so often and uniquely. :)

    Restless is a good word. Disjointed is another. It's a style that, were it to be kept up for any amount of time, would become off-putting to me. As a singular tool, here in this paragraph, to evoke a sense of jumping from one thought to another, it's effective, but a whole book like this with such choppy and unaesthetic syntax... no. Not for me.

    But, just to play devil's advocate, one of my favorite writers, Samuel R. Delany, has an extremely peculiar way of stringing syntax together that people either despise as tedious and like an obstacle course, or love as genius and inventive. *shrug*
     
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  19. rhduke
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    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I like the flow of the paragraph. The only part I really don't like is the "riding as though he were perused by the Devil" line. The "I did not use my blade" is probably the line I like the most. It emotes his anger and shows crisp imagery in only a few words.
     
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  20. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    patra...
    who, other than yourself and fans of the author, has ever rated this paragraph as 'great'?

    i agree with others above that it's far from 'great'... not even beyond mediocre, imo...

    furthermore, it doesn't make any sense, in that the victim's ' body' is supposedly 'broken' though no weapon was apparently used to dispatch the rider, nor do him any harm whatsoever... and he couldn't have been all that 'broken' or become just a body, rather than a living man, since he was able to draw his blade after being 'unhorsed'!
     
  21. rhduke
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    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I got the impression he could handle him with just his fists/hands. The word "broken" gave me the feeling he snapped his neck and or limbs with brute force or something along those lines. Anyway, there's clearly supposed to be a gap in time left out between the sentences:

    ...did not use my blade, though he drew his own. I hurled his broken body into a high oak tree...

    where the violence ensued. Also I don't see a problem him drawing his sword after being pushed off his horse.
     
  22. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    Anyone who is disheartened by a reaction like that should give up writing immediately! How do you think I cope with critiques of my own stuff? I’m very experienced at being wrong and an expert at laughing at myself, so don’t worry about offending me so easily. With hindsight, though, I guess I should have called the thread “What do you think of this paragraph?” instead.

    The responses have been very interesting, especially with respect to the first line. Thinking back, I now vaguely remember that the Devil bit annoyed me too when I first read it twenty years ago, but I have forgiven it with time as I love the rest of the paragraph so much. I’ve been trying to think of some reasons why other people don’t like it as much as I do. For example:

    1. Maybe it’s necessary to know that the MC is kind of godlike for the Devil reference to be less annoying (that’s how he can hurl bodies high into trees too).

    2. Perhaps it’s important to be aware of the fact that Zelazny is normally far more detailed in his combat scenes, so the contrast is interesting here and manages to express the MC’s disdain towards his quarry.

    3. See Daba's post (#16).

    Anyway, I think that having a section of the forum specifically for this type of thing is a great idea which can only improve what is already a damn fine place to talk about writing.
     
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  23. Patra Felino
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    Patra Felino Active Member

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    Exactly. The MC is really hard. From what is not said between the second and third sentences, in addition to the word "broken", the reader gathers that his quarry met with a highly unpleasant and protracted end, full of shattered bones, begging for his life, and sincerely wishing that he had never laid a hand on the MC's woman. For me, anyway!
     
  24. Moneica
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    Moneica Member

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    I didn't like it at all. But that is not to say it wasn't good. It was just not my taste. It wouldn't be something I would read.
     
  25. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I think the answer to this question has been revealed by the OP. What makes this paragraph so great? Well.... Context. The one thing those who don't like it are missing.
     

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