Writing For Dummies

I’ve been re-reading a book I first read a very long time ago: Pavane, by Keith Roberts.

When I first read it, I was a reader and I took in the story, which I remember well. (It’s set in a Britain of 1968 in which history has taken a very different course from our own. In this alternate history Queen Elizabeth I was assassinated in 1588, leading to the Catholic Church dominating Europe and bringing about a new dark age. In this 1968 Britain there is no electricity, there are no phones, and steam powers pretty much everything.)

Now I’m reading it from the perspective of a writer. And I’m learning something about writing in the process.

Here is a short passage to illustrate a point:

At three in the afternoon the engine sheds were already gloomy with the coming night. Light, blue and vague, filtered through the long strips of the skylights, showing the roof ties stark like angular metal bones. Beneath, the locomotives waited brooding, hulks twice the height of a man, their canopies brushing the rafters. The light gleamed in dull spindle shapes, here from the strappings of a boiler, there from the starred boss of a flywheel. The massive road wheels stood in pools of shadow.

This isn’t just writing; this is poetry. The locomotives weren’t just sitting in a shed—they waited, brooding. The light doesn’t just come in through the skylights, it filters in and gleams in dull spindle shapes. People talk about painting with words; if this isn’t a concrete example, I don’t know what is.

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