When I was tutoring recently, the father of the student told me that the reason he wanted me to work with his son is because once his son decides to read his world will open up. This got me wondering what it was about books that has appealed to me for a lifetime. The people who love books, LOVE books and there is an excitement in the air when books are discussed. For me there is something about having an art object in my hand. Don’t get me wrong. I love how books take me with them on adventures, but I also love how they feel in my hands. It is an experience for my imagination, but it is also an experience for my fingertips. The reason a book will hook me into reading it night after night, no matter what else I am doing, is because of the playground of words. I just wait in anticipation for the way author’s will construct sentences in a way I haven’t seen before. More than anything, I want the language to surprise me. Interesting content always helps, but mostly I am fascinated with the marriage of words I have never seen before. A series of lackluster sentences will prompt me to put the book down and put it on the low priority pile. Actually, now, I will never leave the bookstore with a book unless the first sentence and first paragraph are poetic to some degree and beg me to keep reading. There have been times when I read a book written by Timothy Findley or Ami McKay and if the book that follows is not in the same league I am tempted to discard it because the language doesn’t dazzle me.
A local mentor to young writers, Blanche Lamont, calls this intentional writing. Using strong verbs are one way to begin this process. Instead of “fly,” words such as swoosh, glide, soar, or hover add flavour to the action and adds to the character’s personality. My recent student reluctantly composed two sentences (after admitting he has no interest in English as a subject). When I asked him why he was so hesitant to get those sentences on the page, he said, “because anyone could write that.” While that is not entirely true, my student already has a sense of what makes writing original and interesting without even having an interest in it.