Sentence of the Fortnight

Sentence of the Fortnight

"There was nothing out here to eat, there was nothing out here to kill, there was nothing out here to drink, there was nothing out here worth living for; my will to live was wiltering away by the second."

This Lower Fourth Sidcot student is describing a desert setting as practice for creative writing.

We are often told by English teachers to be careful not to repeat ourselves. Variety is the spice of life and all that…

However, there are times when writers and orators use repetition with great power and effect to make a simple point stick with the reader or listener. Here this student uses the technique of anaphora. This simply means to repeat the same phrase at the beginning of each sentence. Charles Dickens’ Fog at the beginning of Bleak House and Martin Luther King’s 'I Have a Dream’ speech are very famous examples.

Mark Forsyth, in his book The Elements of Eloquence says of this technique: "Anaphora is dangerous. It’s almost too powerful. Or, to put it more precisely, it’s like a gun: very useful, but you need to point it the right way before pulling the trigger". Thankfully, this student has only used this feature once in his writing, and is all the more powerful because of it.

From his sentence we gather that the desert is utterly empty. The list of four things builds in intensity, underlining the different degrees or types of emptiness. Physical emptiness ‘eat’ and ‘drink’ drifts into boredom ‘kill’, and then into despair ‘worth living for’ and finally, perhaps even giving up and death itself ‘will to live’ (and the colourful, tapering verb of ‘wiltering’). This progression, the ordering of this list of ideas, feels very deliberate. Like the narrator’s despair, it builds and then dies.

Reinforcing this despair is the repetition of ‘out here’. This place is so remote it doesn’t have a name, or the narrator is lost and therefore cannot name it. His isolation and helplessness is deepened with every repetition of the phrase.

If done well, anaphora can be hypnotic. If done well, it can be compelling and powerful. If done badly, it can sound tedious.

This student has done well.

Nice work.

Jake Resuggan
Teacher of English

Photo courtesy of Pexels 

Independent day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 3 - 18 in Somerset