Over the years I’ve attended writer’s conferences, workshops and countless author readings. I’ve read a library of books and many blogs on the art and craft of writing. Some of the most insightful and helpful ideas about writing have come to me through the generosity of others who shared what they picked up along the way.
I started this blog to continue that tradition and to cast my net in hopes that writers attracted to this site will find something useful that might help with their own journeys.
Yesterday, I read the short story, “The Eyes,” in Edith Wharton: Collected Stories 1891–1910, in the Library of America Story of the Week. Library_of_America@email.loa.org
Most how-to books caution against lengthy description because today’s readers have too many assaults on their attention to linger over anything. We’re advised to get to the point. Brevity is king.
But I wonder if we’re missing something.
Here are a few of the ways Wharton described eyes in her short story:
- …the eyeballs like blinds of which the cords are broken. One lid drooped a little lower than the other, with the effect of a crooked leer; and between these folds of ﬂesh, with their scant bristle of lashes, the eyes themselves, small glassy disks with an agate-like rim, looked like sea-pebbles in the grip of a star-ﬁsh.
- …wasn’t that the eyes were awful; they hadn’t the majesty of the powers of darkness. But they had—how shall I say?—a physical effect that was the equivalent of a bad smell: their look left a smear like a snail’s.
- There they hung in the darkness, their swollen lids dropped across the little watery bulbs rolling loose in the orbits, and the puff of ﬂesh making a muddy shadow underneath—and as their stare moved with my movements, there came over me a sense of their tacit complicity, of a deep hidden understanding between us that was worse than the ﬁrst shock of their strangeness.
I will never write about eyes in the same way again. Wharton’s prose altered my vision and I know it will improve my writing. I am not advocating lengthy descriptions, but this Poe-like suspense story written between 1891 and 1910 opened my eyes!
I’d love to know if you enjoyed this post.
Great first post! That second description of Wharton’s will stick with me for a long time. I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read anything like it (eyes compared to a bad smell or my favorite: “their look left a smear like a snail’s”). Wow. Looking forward to your next post!
Thanks for commenting.I thought the smell and sneer description was brilliant too.