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Week Two Reading Assignment


The following is an excerpt from Plantation Memories by Edward Ball.  I include a link to the New York Times Review of Books which has the entire chapter on line.  What I want to demonstrate here is another way the declarative sentences is used in the opening, this time in a passage that is essentially about one person.  The first sentence, as you can see, is indeed a declarative sentence, but it is deliberately light-hearted, almost bantering in tone.  Introduces a family anecdote, a little joke that no doubt was told many times. 

After this pleasant introduction to the piece, we get the real strong declarative sentence that sets everything into motion. 

 My father, Theodore Porter Ball, came from the venerable city of Charleston, South Carolina, the son of an old plantation clan. 

As you can see, what follows this is solid interesting information.  The structure of the piece is already being formed.



My father had a little joke that made light of our legacy as a family that had once owned slaves.  "There are five thing, we don't talk about in the Ball family", he would say. "Religion, sex, death,  money, and the Negroes."

"What does that leave to talk about?" my mother asked once.

 "That's another of the family secrets," Dad said, smiling.

My father, Theodore Porter Ball, came from the venerable city of Charleston, South Carolina, the  son of an old plantation clan. The Ball family's plantations were among the oldest and longest standing in the American South, and there were more than twenty of them along the Cooper River,  north of Charleston. Between 1698 and 1865, the 167 years the family was in the slave business,  close to four thousand black people were born into slavery to the Balls or bought by them. The crop they raised was rice, whose color and standard gave it the name Carolina Gold. After the Civil War,  some of the Ball places stayed in business as sharecrop farms with paid black labor until about  1900, when the rice market finally failed in face of competition from Louisiana and Asia.

Just for the fun of it, let me try my luck imitating this structure.

My father once told a story about his childhood that explained a lot to me.

"When the other kids talked about Catholics,"  he said,  'They would claim the priests and nuns had hidden weapons in the basement of the rectory.  I hoped they were right."

My father, Patrick Richard Pekin, was born in Evanston Illinois, home of Northwestern University, the oldest son in a first generation Irish American family whose history if far from clear today.  Both his parents were deaf mutes, "dummies" in the terminology of the time, who communicated in sign language. 

As you can see, the different circumstances of the subject, force obvious changes in the paragraph structure, and yet, I am getting a logical start suggests the direction I could take.

The point of this kind of exercise is not to suggest that you copy, far from it, so much as to demonstrate the value of a solid beginning that points into the text.  Watch what happens when I leave the "model" and create my own.

"No Irish need apply."

My father remembered "Help Wanted" advertisements that ended with those words.  Born Patrick Richard Pekin shortly after the turn of the turn of the century , he dropped the Patrick from his name and became simply Richard Pekin because, as he once told me, he did not want to be called "Paddy."

Well now, I think I could do better, but that is not the point here.  I simply want to demonstrate some of the changes a writer goes through in developing his or her ideas.

It is better to make a half dozen false starts, and then find the right one, than to plunge on immediately into confusion.

Moreover, my feeling is that many writers find considerable difficulty in following outlines, simply because outlines seldom give them the actual sentences they need to create the story.  A good solid opening sentence, and a good solid opening paragraph will usually suggest the direction you must take.

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