The cruelty of children is immense…

Word count: 247 words

Reading time: About 1 minute

A great way to improve your writing is to emulate the work of others. That’s why, every week, I present a sentence that I’d happily imitate. Today, I write about a sentence by Lucy Grealy.

Lucy Grealy wrote deeply moving memoirAutobiography of a Face, as I discussed in yesterday’s post.  I found the story of her life gripping — who anticipates a nine-year-old having her jaw removed? But I found her writing just as haunting.

Perhaps because she was a poet, Grealy was exquisitely attuned to the rhythm of language. Here is a sentence in which she demonstrates that art:

The cruelty of children is immense, almost startling in its precision.

I made a note about that sentence even before I fully understood what had captivated me. On reflection, I think it’s partly the insight (we’ve known since Lord of the Flies that children are cruel — but the concept that they’re precisely cruel is unnerving) and partly the rhythm.

Notice how there’s an almost equal number of syllables on either side of the comma: 10 before it (nine if you pronounce “cruelty” as two-syllables — which some readers will) and nine following. This balance helps make the sentence virtually unforgettable.

If you want to read a supremely well-written, highly engaging story this summer, find yourself a copy of Autobiography of a Face.

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