Exercise Day 9

The Excerpt:

“The following morning Bida went carousing. He smashed Saint Valentine’s shrine in the church and tried to play the organ. He was wearing a jacket that had been cut from a blue carpet and had an embroidered lily on its back, and he had combed his sweat-drenched forelock over his gouged-out eye.” — Isaac Babel, Afonka Bida (Red Cavalry Stories)

Analysis: Solid imagery. Starts with something reckless, then something solid, and then the unexpected twist at the end about the missing eye.

The Exercise:

“The next day at noon they went into town. They got drunk at the bar and catcalled the women and Maxie tried to balance a glass on the back of his hand. He was wearing the old work jeans he’d had his first kiss in and his shirt had a hole in the elbow, and his hair was damp and it hung over the scar above his eye.”

Exercise Day 8

The Excerpt:

“This happened not too long ago. A British flag was hoisted above the Paris. The Paris was the Russian steamer Juliet, abducted by the Whites in 1919. Juliet sailed the Mediterranean and the Sea of Marmara for four years, and then joined the Anatolian Line. Last December, she sailed from Constantinople to Zunguldak for coal. In Zunguldak her first officer went to the maritime agent.” — Isaac Babel, Paris and Juliet

Analysis: short and punctuated. Each sentence is very similar in length — like taking measured steps — and each one advances a new idea. A bit flat in terms of progression, but pleasing. The end is rather anticlimactic.


The Exercise:

He was drafted at eighteen and killed at eighteen and a half. He had dark lashes and a competent bearing, but a softness about his eyes. He was still shorter than his father, still growing. He would have gotten a few inches taller if he’d lived to be twenty-one. When he died his foxhole mate spit on the ground to stifle the urge to shed tears.

Exercise Day 7

The Excerpt:

The face of an old gypsy woman looks out from inside a covered wagon facing the campfire.
The reflection of a new moon ripples in a puddle of rainwater in the forest near the camp.
On the floor, mountains of worn-out village shoes need mending.
A dim oil lamp lights the cobbler’s hovel. — Isaac Babel

Analysis: paced. Sparse. Strong images, but few. Very physically-based descriptions. Settled, but not fulfilled or happy — just balanced. Technically this is from a screenplay, but I think it stands just fine as a cadence of prose fiction — it’s very deliberate, but in an easy way.

The Exercise:

The eyes of a young woman watch the back of a soldier as he walks down the street.
Another woman in her upstairs bedroom across town folds her nice dresses and carefully packs them away.
In a grimy window, flowers slowly wilt in a vase that’s run out of water.
A fly buzzes hopelessly against a window screen.

Analysis: I actually really like this one.

Exercise Day 6

The Excerpt:

I gave the old man some money and went out into the street. Gedali and I parted, and I went back to the railroad station. There at the station, on the propaganda train of the First Cavalry, I was greeted by the sparkle of hundreds of lights, the enchanted glitter of the radio transmitter, the stubborn rolling of the printing presses, and my unfinished article for the Krasny Kavalerist. — Isaac Babel, The Red Cavalry Stories (specifically, The Rabbi)

Analysis: broad in scope, but then settles into something mundane and practical — the weight of a task that needs doing, that you bear with you until you finish it, and that drags you down to settle in reality — like the thought process turning some shade of depressed and settling into the dust.

The Exercise:

She paid her bill and went out into the street. She slid into her car, turned the key in the ignition, pulled out and headed out of town. The houses faded out so fast, and the asters danced along the side of the road, and the sunlight played off the wheat, flashed on the radio dials, flashed on the tractor being driven through a field by a tanned and sullen farmer; and she drove towards home and towards a kitchen waiting for supper to be made.

Exercise Day 5

The Passage:

“I could!” Mendel shouted, and banged his fist against his head. “I could, Benchik!” he yelled with all his might, staggering like an epileptic. “This courtyard around me, in which I have served a sentence for the first half my life. This courtyard has seen me be the father of my children, the husband of my wife, the master of my horses. It has seen my glory, that of my twenty stallions and my twelve iron-reinforced carts. It has seen my legs, unshakable as pillars, and my arms, my evil arms. But now unlock the gates for me, my dear sons, today let me for once do as I wish! Let me leave this courtyard that has seen too much!” — Isaac Babel, The Odessa Stories

Analysis: Opens with a sense of desperation, illustrated with metaphors of insanity, then settles and expands into a deep (and very grounded) sense of scope. The time encompassed in this paragraph is vast. It evokes the image of human dreams and is tinged with nostalgia. A visceral articulation of youth, which in turn implies age, an an approaching sense of mortality. Visceral words — “my glory,” “my legs, unshakable as pillars,” and very unique descriptors — “my evil arms.” An underlying drive of passion. Syntactically, this becomes very deliberately paced — no long rich sentences, but rather, short and punctuated — giving a sense of immediacy, keeping your attention as a reader very focused.


“See this?” he said, and gestured his arms like a bird trying to fly. “See this?” his voice rose to an angry pitch the more he thought about what he was trying to say. “This land around me, on which I spent the prime years of my life. These hills have seen me become a father, love my wife, each year tend my crops. It has seen me in my glory and it’s seen me in defeat. It has seen the aging of my body, these legs strong as horses, these arms deft as lightning. It has held me and kept me safe and given me great hardship and great riches, and I have earned it time and time again. Leave me here to grow old and die on this land that has seen me live.”

Analysis: lost it at the end, but I couldn’t not take it where it wanted to go.

Exercise Day 4

The Example:

David drove up from Cannes in the dusk. The wind had fallen and he left the car in the usual place and walked up the path to where the light came out onto the patio and the garden. Marita came out of the doorway and walked toward him. — Ernest Hemingway

Analysis: Such an interesting syntax. It’s a run-on sentence, and yet it feels simple and clean. The progression of events and the progression of the words are perfectly mirrored. I think they key to everything I’ve been reading so far is the richness and the complexity — think, “so little and yet so much.”

The Exercise:

Wes pulled into the farm at dusk. The clouds had moved to the edge of the horizon and he shut his truck door and walked across the grass towards the squatting frame of the farmhouse with its soft edges. Magdalene came to the doorway and dried her hands.

Analysis: I didn’t hit this one at all. The key to this is the imagery itself, which I’m not mimicking — I’m only copying syntax, not pictures.