Monday, July 23, 2012

The World's Best Writing, Part I

Once upon a time, when I used to teach high school English classes, I gave my students examples of writing that it would behoove them to imitate. They're also examples that I look to for writing style inspiration.

The scene below--from The Call of the Wild, by Jack London--describes events with a furious and breathless momentum that places you in the middle of the action. I love the strong verbs, the short clauses, and the effective use of ellipses in the second paragraph.
“Now, MUSH!” 
Thornton’s command cracked out like a pistol-shot. Buck threw himself forward, tightening the traces with a jarring lunge. His whole body was gathered compactly together in the tremendous effort, the muscles writhing and knotting like live things under the silky fur. His great chest was low to the ground, his head forward and down, while his feet were flying like mad, the claws scarring the hard-packed snow in parallel grooves. The sled swayed and trembled, half-started forward. One of his feet slipped, and one man groaned aloud. Then the sled lurched ahead in what appeared a rapid succession of jerks, though it never really came to a dead stop again…half an inch…an inch…two inches… The jerks perceptibly diminished; as the sled gained momentum, he caught them up, till it was moving steadily along.
Men gasped and began to breathe again, unaware that for a moment they had ceased to breathe. Thornton was running behind, encouraging Buck with short, cheery words. The distance had been measured off, and as he neared the pile of firewood which marked the end of the hundred yards, a cheer began to grow and grow, which burst into a roar as he passed the firewood and halted at command. Every man was tearing himself loose, even Matthewson. Hats and mittens were flying in the air. Men were shaking hands, it did not matter with whom, and bubbling over in a general incoherent babel. 

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