Prose Styles

Prose Styles
The Lean Style (note the way this first passage uses sentence fragments)
“Quoyle woke in the empty room. Grey light. A sound of hammering. His
heart. He lay in his sleeping bag in the middle of the floor. The candle on its
side. Could smell the wax, smell the pages of the book that lay open beside
him, the dust in the floor cracks. Neutral light illumined the window. The
hammering again and a beating shadow in the highest panes. A bird.”
--Annie Proulx, The Shipping News
“I swung at him and he ducked. I saw his face duck sideways in the light. He
hit me and I sat down on the pavement. As I started to get on my feet he
hit me twice. I went down backward under the table. I tried to get up and
felt I did not have any legs. I felt I must get on my feet and try and hit him.
Mike helped me up. Some one poured a carafe of water on my head. Mike
had an arm around me, and I found I was sitting on a chair. Mike was
pulling at my ears.”
--Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
The Meandering Style (note the way these two passages use coordination
and subordination differently)
“As she lurched (for she rolled like a ship at sea) and leered (for her eyes
fell on nothing directly, but with a sidelong glance that deprecated the
scorn and anger of the world—she was witless, she knew it), as she
clutched the banisters and hauled herself upstairs and rolled from room to
room, she sang. Rubbing the glass of the long looking-glass and leering
sideways at her swinging figure a sound issued from her lips—something
that had been gay twenty years before on the stage perhaps, had been
hummed and danced to, but now, coming from the toothless, bonneted,
care-taking woman, was robbed of meaning, was like the voice of
witlessness, humor, persistency itself, trodden down but springing up
again, so that as she lurched, dusting, wiping, she seemed to say how it was
one long sorrow and trouble, how it was getting up and going to bed again,
and bringing things out and putting them away again. It was not easy or
snug this world she had known for close on seventy years. Bowed down she
was with weariness.”
--Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
“Small orphans were abroad like irate dwarfs and fools and sots drooling
and flailing about in the small markets of the metropolis and the prisoners
rode past the carnage in the meatstalls and the waxy smell where racks of
guts hung black with flies and flayings of meat in great red sheets now
darkened with the advancing day and the flensed and naked skulls of cows
and sheep with their dull blue eyes glaring wildly and the stiff bodies of
deer and javelina and ducks and quail and parrots, all wild things from the
country round hanging head downward from hooks.”
--Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
What’s your style? Try them both. Try mixtures of the lean and the
meandering, as Virginia Woolf does at the end of the passage above.