The estimated reading time for this post is 8 Minutes

Thesis: An author’s word choice, sentence fluency, and their tone contribute to their style of writing and help achieve a certain effect while shaping the story and its characters.

An author’s word choice can define which emotion a reader feels as they progress through a story. Their use of certain words can create a mood and convey a whole new story if the words were changed. A reader’s association with certain words with certain emotions can shape their interpretation of a story as well. In “Hills Like White Elephants,” by Ernest Hemmingway, Hemingway states: “The hills across the valley of the Ebro’ were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. ” In this part of the story, the author writes in a calm tone, setting a relaxing scene for the story to progress in. Hemmingway’s choice of words, in this case, help the reader envision an overwhelmingly hot day by emphasizing the lack of shade and the warmness of the station. The tone, in this case, is carried out through the use of imagery that suggests the setting is calm with little to no movement or activity, with only the unknown character and the American girl with him.

Similarly, “A Temporary Matter,” by Jumpha Lahiri, includes imagery and words that change how the reader “sees” the characters or the setting of the story. In the short story, Lahiri states: “At some point in the evening she visited him. When he heard her approach he would put away his novel and begin typing sentences. She would rest her hands on his shoulders and stare with him into the blue glow of the computer screen. ‘Don’t work too hard,’ she would say after a minute or two, and head off to bed. It was the one time in the day she sought him out, and yet he’d come to dread it. He knew it was something she forced herself to do.” Lahiri’s choice of words, however, is quite different from Hemingway’s. Here the author demonstrates the strain in the couple’s relationship and how the husband begins to detest his wife’s presence. A sense of dread comes over the readers as they wish to tell him to go to his wife and fix their relationship, but the character remains fixed on his work.

Word choice is not the only trick authors use to influence the mood of a story; the length of the sentences can also contribute to the mood/ tone to amplify the message the reader must grasp from the story. Longer sentences may convey deep emotions. These sentences have more details allow for a deeper understanding of what the author is trying to say. Shorter sentences create a sense of restlessness or tension that grab the attention of the reader. Hemingway states: ‘‘I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to.’ ‘And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?’ ‘I love you now. You know I love you.’ ‘I know. But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?’ ‘I’ll love it. I love it now but I just can’t think about it. You know how I get when I worry.’ ‘If I do it you won’t ever worry?’ ‘I won’t worry about that because it’s perfectly simple.’‘Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.’ ‘What do you mean? ‘I don’t care about me.’ ‘Well, I care about you.’ ‘Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine.’ ‘I don’t want you to do it if you feel that way.’” This interaction between the two characters in the story is carried out through short and repetitive sentences. The reader can sense the tension and indecisiveness of the two. The quick back-and-forth conversation creates a feeling of uneasiness.

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However, Lahiri uses both short and long sentences to emphasize parts of his story. “He ran his tongue over the tops of his teeth; he’d forgotten to brush them that morning. It wasn’t the first time. He hadn’t left the house at all that day, or the day before. The more Shoba stayed out, the more she began putting in extra hours at work and taking on additional projects, the more he wanted to stay in, not even leaving to get the mail, or to buy fruit or wine at the stores by the trolley stop.” These few sentences describe the loneliness and seclusion of this character. Here, the small details of forgetting to brush his teeth mask the stress Shukumar feels after the loss of his child and displays the distance between him and his wife. As the story progresses, the author starts to show the reader how separated the couple is through Shoba’s preference of staying out of the house — and hence her husband — and Shukumar’s insistence on staying home to work. These actions show how irreparable their marriage has become. The shorter sentences envelop the reader in claustrophobic clouds of tension and awkwardness from the poor communication of the couple. The longer sentences allow for fluidity of the story and a clear understanding of the strain in the relationship.

Pacing is a very important aspect that influences how the reader comprehends a certain part of the story or the whole work. Paragraph length contributes to a story’s pacing, as well as highlighting key events that a reader should pay attention to. ‘What did you say?’ ‘I said we could have everything.’ ‘We can have everything.’ ‘No, we can’t.’ ‘We can have the whole world.’ ‘No, we can’t.’ ‘We can go everywhere.’ ‘No, we can’t. It isn’t ours anymore.’ ‘It’s ours.’ ‘No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back.’ ‘But they haven’t taken it away.’ ‘We’ll wait and see.’ ‘Come on back in the shade,’ he said. ‘You mustn’t feel that way.’ ‘I don’t feel any way,’ the girl said. ‘I just know things.’ ‘I don’t want you to do anything that you don’t want to do—’ ‘Nor that isn’t good for me,’ she said. ‘I know. Could we have another Beer?’ ‘All right. But you’ve got to realize—’ ‘I realize,’ the girl said. ‘Can’t we maybe stop talking?’ The small sentences and quotes make the pacing quick and allow for the fast

“He wondered what Shoba would tell him in the dark. The worst possibilities had already run through his head. That she’d had an affair. That she didn’t respect him for being thirty-five and still a student. That she blamed him for being in Baltimore the way her mother did. But he knew those things weren’t true. She’d been faithful, as had he. She believed in him. It was she who had insisted he go to Baltimore. What didn’t they know about each other? He knew she curled her fingers tightly when she slept, that her body twitched during bad dreams. He knew it was honeydew she favored over cantaloupe. He knew that when they returned from the hospital the first thing she did when she walked into the house was pick out objects of theirs and toss them into a pile in the hallway: books from the shelves, plants from the windowsills, paintings from walls, photos from tables, pots and pans that hung from the hooks over the stove. Shukumar had stepped out of her way, watching as she moved methodically from room to room. When she was satisfied, she stood there staring at the pile she’d made, her lips drawn back in such distaste that Shukumar had thought she would spit. Then she’d started to cry.”

This paragraph encompasses a lot of information into one large paragraph that can overwhelm the reader and make the tension rise as they read the story of a strained relationship between husband and wife.

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