Powerful Paragraphs

Powerful Paragraph #3

Imagine that the streets are dead quiet, and you lived on those dead quiet streets, and there is nothing left of anything you once owned. Those rare survivors who are still present on the scene, working in those skeletal byways, are dressed in blue disposable jumpsuits and wearing face masks to avoid being burned by the black mold that is everywhere in their homes, climbing up the walls, forming slippery abstract figures underfoot. While this is going on and you are wondering whether you will find remains of anything that you every loved, tourists are passing by in an air-conditioned bus snapping images of your personal destruction. There is something affirming, I can see, in the acknowledgement by the tourists of the horrendous destructive act, but it still might feel like invasion. And anyway, I do not believe the tour buses ever made it to the street where I grew up.

from The Yellow House by Sarah M Broom

In this paragraph, Sarah M Broom describes the cleanup process in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. This is from her memoir about her own family’s experiences in New Orleans, and it is powerful because it is raw and real and because it establishes tension between the rough reality of loss faced by the locals and the gawking curiosity of tourists. Notice the use of 2nd person in this paragraph. Writing in 2nd person (you, your, you’re) is often discouraged, especially in student writing, but Broom uses it effectively here to draw the reader into the experience. She invites the reader to image being the position so many experienced by so many in New Orleans after the devastating losses of Katrina. The you referred to then is both the reader and the lives of New Orleans residents that the reader is being asked to project into for the sake of experiencing empathy. Ending the paragraph with a 1st person reference after writing using 2nd person for several sentences is even more powerful. It reminds us that the author is someone who was there, someone who went through the loss she is describing.

English Composition 2 Research Writing Tips

Academic Writing Style

The Google Slide presentation posted above offers a general introduction to academic writing style. Click on the arrow to start, or click on the square icon to view the presentation in the full screen format. It will be easier to read in full screen mode because it contains a large amount of text.

If you prefer to view the original PowerPoint presentation, download it here. Teachers, feel free to edit, customize, and share the PowerPoint with your own students. Please do not use for commercial purposes without permission or post publicly without attribution.

Powerful Paragraphs

Powerful Paragraph #2

Tuesday after Tuesday she fails. She leads her father on six-block detours that leave her angry and frustrated and farther from home than when they started. But in the winter of her eighth year, to Marie-Laure’s surprise, she begins to get it right. She runs her fingers over the model in their kitchen, counting miniature benches, trees, lampposts, doorways. Every day some new detail emerges—each storm drain, park bench, and hydrant in the model has its counterpart in the real world.

Marie-Laure brings her father closer to home before making a mistake. Four blocks three blocks two. And one snowy Tuesday in March, when he walks her to yet another new spot, very close to the banks of the Seine, spins her around three times, and says, “Take us home,” she realizes that, for the first time since they began this exercise, dread has not come trundling up from her gut.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

These two paragraphs describe a little blind girl learning to make her way through the city of Paris by memorizing a model of the city created by her father. They are powerful both for the language and for the emotion evoked. Marie-Laure is a child learning to survive while blind in a seeing world. The rich detail in the descriptions helps us as readers to picture surroundings that she cannot see. Yet her emotional landscape–which we know must be filled with overwhelm and fear–remains very subtle in the language of the paragraphs. “Tuesday after Tuesday she fails,” but when she finally succeeds, she simply notices that “dread has not come trundling up from her gut.” Trundling is a great word choice here. It’s a verb carrying the descriptive weight of the sentence. The overall image is particularly powerful because we are not hit over the head with it. We are not asked to pity her or fear for her. We are told about her normal state of dread only by its absence. That is great writing.

Powerful Paragraphs

Powerful Paragraph #1

Caravaggio watches Hana, who sits across from him looking into his eyes, trying to read him, trying to figure the flow of thought the way his wife used to do. He watches her sniffing him out, searching for the trace. He buries it and looks back at her, knowing his eyes are faultless, clear as any river, unimpeachable as a landscape. People, he knows, get lost in them, and he is able to hide well. But the girl watches him quizzically, tilting her head in a question as a dog would when spoken to in a tone or pitch that is not human. She sits across from him in front of the dark, blood-red walls, whose colour he doesn’t like, and in her black hair and with that look, slim, tanned olive from all the light in this country, she reminds him of his wife.

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

I chose this as a powerful paragraph because of the lyrical prose. In these few sentences Ondaatje sketches out an air of mystery and loss and tension through intense descriptive detail. The paragraph begins and ends with a mention of Caravaggio’s wife and a comparison between Hana and his wife. You don’t have to know the backstory of what has happened to his wife or how he has ended up where he is to feel the gut punch of this association.