The flashing bottoms of my brother’s feet….

Word count: 261 words

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

A terrific way to improve your writing skills is to emulate the work of others. Here is a sentence I read recently that I’d happily imitate.

This summer, a friend recommended the novel Ragged Company by Ojibway author Richard Wagamese. When she told me the broad outline of the plot, I was hooked. It’s the story of four homeless people who win a $13 million lottery.

It may have been the plot that drew me, but it was the writing that kept me. Wagamese describes the life of street people with understanding and sophistication. And he writes beautifully.

One of the characters, Amelia One Sky,  is Aboriginal and Wagamese describes how her brother dies in a swimming accident. Wagamese tells the story non-judgementally, and with unflinching compassion. And he gives me my sentence of the week.

Even grown men –bigger, stronger kickers– would never see anything but the flashing bottoms of my brother’s feet.

I like both the simplicity of the sentence — there are no big words — and its aching specificity. The first part is almost misleading. When we think of grown men, unless we’re talking about  Michael Phelps, we seldom think about swimmers. Thus, the word “stronger kickers” conjures up images of street fighting. The second part of the sentence carries both sisterly pride and a stunning visual image. Instead of describing her brother as “fast” or “strong” she refers to the flashing bottoms of her brother’s feet. While I’m not usually a fan of adjectives, I love the way this one lights up the sentence. It makes me think of fish, darting through the water.

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