Sunday Exercise: Just a paragraph, but oh, what a paragraph!

Have you ever read a passage of a story and just stopped to enjoy what the writer did? How the writer shared their world view in such an economical way? or how they created a world without using fancy terms?

Happens all the time, yes?

great short stories of the mastersWell, I keep this book on my desk, which I browse at will — and sometimes all I’m seeking is a brief connection with another writer’s style. (Sometimes, I don’t even finish the full short story, though I probably shouldn’t admit it. Yes, I know: bad McKenna, go stand in the corner and read the full story.)

But I wanted to share this opening paragraph from a James Joyce short story, called “Araby.” I was so taken by the beauty of what he did, that I stopped reading the story just to enjoy the passage.  Which is when I decided to do an imitation of it  (click here for my explanation of what imitation is — and is not).

Just look at what he did:

North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers’ School set the boys free. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground. The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown, imperturbable faces.

Take a moment to re-read his passage before continuing on here.  Now read my rewrite, which was written to MEAN the same.

North Richmond was a blind street, quiet except at the hour when the Christian Brother’s School let out. An empty house of two storeys stood at the blind end, separate from its neighbours in a square lot. The other houses of the street contained decent lives within them, and they sat opposite each other.

What do you notice about the difference in the feel of the first passage v. the second passage?

Don’t they both paint the same image?  What is it that Joyce does that my rewritten passage does not?

Go ahead … leave a comment!

I’m going to imitate the passage, and I’ll post my imitation in the comments.


  • Joyce didn’t just describe the neighborhood, he gave it human characteristics (a process called personification): “conscious of the decent lives within them” and “gazed at one another” (houses really don’t gaze), and “brown, imperturbable faces” (houses have facades, but not faces, and certainly not imperturbable). So his attitude about this neighborhood is made plain: it lives for him, it has “decent lives within,” but it’s imperturbable.

    Notice also, that the Christian Brother’s school didn’t “let the boys out.” It “set them free.” Again, the author’s implied attitude that the school was to be endured, not enjoyed.

    What about you? Where did you feel this story might go, based on just that first paragraph?