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HIGH ACTION SCENE from LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow

August 1, 2011

I love this book. Such great writing. Addicting and engaging characters. And as ambitious a storyline I’ve read in a long time. It’s all the best parts of Orwell’s 1984 with brilliant teenagers being daring enough to try to take down Big Brother. Frickin rad!

So I decided to study it a bit to see what I could learn from the writing. I can’t post the original selection from the novel, but here’s my breakdown. Let me know if you get any epiphanes.

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From p.320-321 in Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER — end of chapter 19
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WORDCOUNT FOR SELECTION = 486

VERB ANALYSIS

32 STRONG VERBS = teased, snuffled, twitched, shot out, grinding, gasped, grabbed punching, grind, shatter, swallowed, crushing, banging, shattered, yelped, spasmed, snatched, shove, walled in, grunt, slithering, clanging, thump, scrambled, dragged, slamming, screamed, padlocked, delete, poised, slap, shove, dove
43 WEAK“er” VERBS = WAS—5x, HAD—7x, turned, reached, knew, made, stopping, stared, staring, taking, bit, crying, continued, didn’t say, felt, showed, moved, asked, look, find, moved, brought it down, hit, went, still moving, reaching, moved, heading, felt, fell down, heard, must have caught, didn’t
20 “ING” VERBS
4 FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE = fast as a snake, like it would shatter, like a gong, like Pharoah in a tomb

SENTENCE STRUCTURE

2 SIMPLE SENTENCES
2 SIMPLE W/ COMPOUND VERB
5 COMPOUND SENTENCES W/ COMMA
3 COMPOUND SENTENCE W/O COMMA
5 COMPLEX SENTENCES
2 COMPOUND COMPLEX SENTENCES
12 PARTICIPLE PHRASES (“ing” or “ed”)
3 DIALOGUE

SURPRISES for me:

How many “ing” participle phrases he uses. I’ve heard many people say that “comma + ing particple” slows down your action scenes, that you should use more hard “ed” verbs and simple sentences. But Mr. Doctorow proves otherwise.

The sentence structure. In action scenes, “shorten the sentence length.” “Make it feel faster with short punchy lines.” That’s what I’ve heard anyway. Yet when I look at his structure, he’s got only 4 Simple sentences. 8 Compound, 5 Complex, and a whopping 12 Comma/Participle phrases (sometimes even back to back).

Also a bit shocking was the number of what people would call “weak” verbs. “Make your verbs stronger.” “I’ve highlighted all your ING and WASes. They slow the action and pull me out of it.” Doctorow’s strong verbs are definitely strong, but very few are scouring the barrel of unique action verbs. Which is pretty befuddling because the voice in this novel is SO unique and fresh. But that voice isn’t coming during this particular action scene. He used “move” 4x, “felt” a couple of times, “stare” 2x, and “went / find / turn / look / made / continue.”

Of course, rules are made so that the masters can break them. But on the pre-publication side of the curtain, I wonder how many rules are made up by pre-pubbers, who are still figuring out the ropes themselves. Like me.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. wombatgroup permalink*
    August 7, 2011 6:18 pm

    This could be an example of the maxim, “once you’re published, you don’t have to follow ‘the rules’ anymore.”

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