Annie Dillard is one of my love-to-hate authors. Her writing’s so good it makes the hair on my head rise–really! It’s as if I get caught in an electrical storm of sheer linguistic power. Wham, bam, sizzle.
Take the following,from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Today a gibbous moon marked the eastern sky like a smudge of chalk. The shadow of its features had the same blue tone and light value as the sky itself, so it looked transparent at its depths, or softly frayed, like the heel of a sock. Not too long ago, according to Edwin Way Teale, the people of Europe believed that geese and swans wintered there, on the moon’s pale seas. Now it is the sunset. The mountains warm in tone as the day chills, and a hot blush deepens over the land. “Observe,” said da Vinci, “observe in the streets at twilight, when the day is cloudy, the loveliness and tenderness spread on the faces of men and women.” I have seen those faces, when the day is cloudy, and I have seen at sunset on a clear winter day houses, ordinary houses, whose bricks were coals and window flames.
Having typed out this paragraph, I now really hate Ms. Dillard. Whoever heard of a moon being frayed like the heel of a sock? It’s so original. And what about her erudition? She quotes Edwin Teal and da Vinci without missing a beat or sounding, even, as if she’s mouthing others words. And look at where she carries you in one paragraph–from a gibbous moon (oh, the choice of the word gibbous) to the sun’s glow flaming the window panes. Moon to sun, da Vinci to self, fraying socks to ordinary houses whose bricks were coals.
So are you ready to take the Dillard challenge? Think of two striking images, one to begin the paragraph and another to end it with. Work in a couple of striking images and similes. Add a quote and a reference. Then see how much ground you can cover in a few short lines.