Wick Communications

Two authors at one time

In Writing techniques on 15 Jul 2010 at 2:50 pm

This week I’m finishing two books, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and New Orleans Sketches, which is really a collection of early word doodles William Faulkner sold to the New Orleans Times-Picayune in the 1920s.

Reading them both simultaneously is actually dizzying. Faulkner is a dervish, twisting spirals of words upon themselves. If he were a painter, I’d call him an impressionist. Melville is comparatively sparse. He’s a reporter. I know more about 19th century whaling than I ever thought possible.

So what? Well, as I said before, better reading is the key to better writing. With that in mind, I wanted to discuss a couple tricks of the masters.

Melville bangs his drum with a rhythm all his own. Everyone knows the opening line of Moby Dick: “Call me Ishmael.” It’s easy to forget that the same paragraph includes an 86-word sentence. Talk about a whale! One of his tricks is the juxtaposition of short and long sentence structures. To my mind’s ear it creates an effect much like skipping down the road – long, short, long, short…

For his part, Faulkner is famously dreamy. He deals in images. Like this one, from The Sound and the Fury:

I hit him I was still trying to hit him long after he was holding my wrists but I still tried then it was like I was looking at him through a piece of colored glass I could hear my blood.

I have friends who find that lack of punctuation pretentious. Not me. I think the sentence flows like the very thoughts in the narrator’s mind, as he is engaged in a violent moment.

I’m not suggesting you try to imitate Melville or Faulkner any more than I would suggest you drive like Andretti and Gordon. These people are trained professionals. But you might try the “long, short, long, short” thing some time, or, just for fun, open a feature the way Faulkner might. It might not work. But it doesn’t hurt to understand how the best take us to places we didn’t even know we wanted to see.


  1. Clay,

    Ah. Benjy, the idiot referenced in the title of Faulkner’s most famous work. The chapters in which Benji is narrator are some of the coolest stream-of-conscious prose available.
    In writing that Faulkner and Melville were “trained professionals” I sure hope you didn’t mean to imply that Wick writers are untrained amateurs.
    We’re not, it’s only the paychecks that make it seem that way.
    Thanks fr reminding me to pick-up Melville again.
    Kind regards,

  2. No such implication intended, Scott. I guess I was being cavalier. By the way, there was some pretty neat new Faulkner audio released the other day, I think by the University of Virginia. I know I had never heard his voice. I don’t know what I expected… but I’m not sure it’s what I heard.

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