A Cop Walked into the Room


So, what does Jhumpa Lahiri write instead of a cop walked into the room?  The following: “A policeman arrived, his black boots and his gun and his radio filling up the room, static from his radio replacing the silence.”  Okay, Jhumpa, I think you’ve been reading lots of Hemmingway…but I thank you for it and I am trying to learn.  She uses “and” to draw out the sentence, while putting the cop’s outfit together.

Or how bout this description of a balcony being narrow?  “Amit unlocked the sliding glass door and stepped out onto the balcony, a strip of cement containing two plastic chairs.”  What this does is tell us about Amit, that checking out the balcony was important to him.  Also, we see the chintzy balcony and experience the let down.  No detail is extra.  These details propel plot, develop character and do this succintly. 

It’s hard to be reading, then apply concepts to your own writing unless you’re at the end of a piece, where you have the luxury to reflect and edit.  When you’re at the third page of a novel, you don’t want to cloud your brain with anything other than pushing forward.  This switching back and forth is difficult, between creator and editor.  The good writers have cultivated both, but I believe they still chomp their nails while creating, still pull at their hair while editing.  They’ve merely got into the groove of doing both.  They are not experts, claims Helen Simonson who I saw at the AWP conference.  She said it is difficult every time and that it does not get better; that each time you take out the creator and feed him buscuits.  Each time, you peel off the creator to reveal an editor, and give him the goggles and the two orange guides to the correct landing lane.  Ouch.  My fingers hurt and I’ve only typed 292 words.  80,000 is a lot of ache.

6 responses to “A Cop Walked into the Room

  1. Wonderful descriptions! I love the “cop walked into a room” slant–yes! Thank you for sharing.

  2. I want to subscribe! But I’m not sure how.

  3. You know, Elizabeth, I read this book. Read it and enjoyed it and knew while reading it that I was experiencing GOOD writing. (Hmmm, the voice in my head is saying ‘good writing? That’s it? Can’t you come up with more suitably poetic or profound words to describe this gifted author’s work?’ Well, voice, probably. But Professor Rosenblatt would likely tell me to say what I mean to say ~ hey, isn’t that a song? – so I’m saying: GOOD WRITING. The common denominator way of reducing all the ways I could say what I mean to say into its simplest form.)
    As I was saying…although I recognized the art, I did not name it. In other words, I stepped into Lahiri’s worlds and marveled at being there, but never troubled myself with CAREFUL reading, with really giving concentrated thought to how she got me there.
    You inspire me
    to aspire to be
    a much more thoughtful reader.

  4. And how ’bout a much more thoughtful writer?
    Just realized I spelled your name Elizabeth (who is my dear friend) instead of Elisabeth (which, as you know, is a name we share ~a fact I love ~ your lovingly chosen name is also my middle name). **Sigh** So sorry!

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