In Lynsey Addario’s It’s What I do, there is a scene shortly after the liberation of Baghdad in which an altercation between American soldiers and Iraqi civilians becomes violent as Addario watches and photographs. This scene in particular captured and enthralled me as I read because of its use of sentence structure to set a mood.
Here, Addario narrates with long, smooth sentences that get interrupted by short, choppy declarations. These declarations serve to highlight the absurd, the important, and the dramatic moments within the scene. More importantly, though, they make the reader feel as confused, unbalanced, and out of place as Addario did when she experienced it. We are thrust from the comfort of complete and flowing narration to blunt and disjointed thoughts that put us on edge, which is a perfect feeling for the scene she described. In addition, the breakdown of narration reflects the breakdown of peace and order in that scene and the disintegration of Iraq as a whole. With a few sentence choices, Addario is able to convey not only what she feels, but also the chaotic atmosphere of post-Saddam Iraq.
In my own writing, I fall short on the structure aspect. Too often, I rely on the comfort and safety of words and neglect the potential of the unspoken. Just as in conversation, where half of what is said is through body language and tone of voice, the pacing and structure of writing conveys a message. In my passion blog, I can use this technique in the same way Addario did, to convey subtly convey mood. When telling a story, I can narrate how I remember, emphasizing flashbulb memories laden with emotion, instead of providing the whole scene. For the more technical part of my blog, I can certainly use sentence structure to provide emphasis, but emotion might be a little harder to do.
I kneeled about eight feet from the scene and photographed, shocked by what I was witnessing. What happened to “liberating the Iraqis?” I was waiting for one of the soldiers to step in and stop the madness when I noticed an old woman in an abaya in the right corner of my frame. She was about sixty years old. She raised a propane tank over her head and smashed it on a crouching soldier’s neck. I kept shooting. No one even noticed me.