One skill I’ve learned to appreciate is the crafting of really good paragraphs. Sounds simple, but great writers can craft a paragraph with something that lesser writers would use pages to accomplish. So I’m going to start noting and writing about examples of insanely well-written grafs…
First up, I noted this amazing graf in Gary Smith’s fantastic Sports Illustrated article on Bonnie Richardson, a high school athlete who twice won the Texas state track and field championship… by herself. In this paragraph, Smith is talking about how Richardson’s mother worked hard to help her daughter, but also gave her room to be herself. In about 200 words, we get a rich, narrative glimpse of Bonnie’s growth from toddler to high school phenom:
Yep, lucky Bonnie, because OmniMom let her be who she was: the four-year-old girl shooting a Remington at prickly pear cactus with Dad. The five-year-old climbing on a bucket to mount Snip and trot off with Dad to run the ranch. The seven-year-old scaling bluffs and building forts and diving into Onion Creek till the horn from Dad’s pickup called her to dinner. The eight-year-old rising at 4 a.m. to spend all day separating the cattle for weighing and shipping, and swallowing so much dust that she’d spit brown till tomorrow. The 10-year-old sobbing when the family moved from the 12,000-acre ranch where Dad worked to an 85-acre homestead that the Richardsons could call their own. The 12-year-old praying out loud with Lee when monster hailstones drummed their sports banquet and tornado sirens screamed—”Please, Lord, don’t let them find my dead body in a dress!” The 17-year-old in bulky camouflage shorts, pockets bulging with snacks and energy bars, who’d gone to school with the same six boys for so many years that she’d decided to defer romance till college and focus meanwhile on clamping them in headlocks in the hallways and flattening their right arms on the school’s picnic table during lunchtime arm wrestling.
In that one paragraph, Smith packs eight scenes; a narrative slide-show, rich with evocative details (brown spit; five-year-old Bonnie climbing on a bucket; camouflage shorts loaded with energy bars) that show us a lot about Richardson.
Great stuff. Read the rest here.
For more, also check out:
- Nieman Storyboard: Gary Smith interview on “The Power of One” from Sports Illustrated
- Nieman Storyboard: Gary Smith on intimacy and connecting with subjects