Simple Words

I often feel like a pilot fish, swimming an ocean of writing, following the great author sharks, hanging just behind their mouths, hoping to snag some tasty bits of insight.

Sometimes, something delicious comes my way from an unexpected source.

Here’s a fine piece of descriptive prose I read yesterday in, of all places, the New York Times opinion page: “the light through my windows looks the way October light is supposed to look — mild, quiet, entirely unlike the thin light of winter or the sparkling light of spring or the unrelenting light of summer. In normal years, October is a month for open windows in Middle Tennessee. For cool, damp mornings. For colored leaves that quake in the wind before letting go and lifting away. For afternoon shadows so lovely they fill me with a longing I can’t even name.”

The writer is Margaret Renkl.

Description is part of every writer’s toolkit. In my thrillers, it’s often there to create a logical space in which action happens. In the best literary fiction, it exercises the mother tongue to tease out a feeling for place and time.

I loved the balance of Renkl’s prose. Simple words, but poetic, spare. She didn’t need to pile on intricate vocabulary to impress the reader, yet her words reach beyond pure description to convey emotion without emoting.

The opinion piece, called The Last Hummingbird, is here