Here is a selection from Manhattan Transfer:
"The light of the sunset flamed in the windows of
"…sun that glinted in squares on the upper windows of
"…sheets of reflected light off windows, oblong glints
off delivery wagons…"
"…flicker off the light-beaded windows."
"…through the dusty pane where the sun gave a tiny
glitter to the dust…"
"Rosy twilight….glittered in brass and nickel, on buttons,
in people's eyes."
"The light of a zinc sky catches brightedged glints off
"Across the zinc water…building shimmered up the rosy
"The downtown express passed clattering in yellow
"…rifts of light…mark off the glistening pavement."
"…pointing at him with the latchkey that caught the light of
"The bright searing bud of light swells in the center of
the ceiling, sprays razorsharp nickel, enamel, a dazzling
sharp case of sharp instruments."
"…angular glitter of glass, enamel and nickel…"
"The light of the mirror was reflected silvery…"
"A mildewed scrap of moon…made tinfoil of a bit of
"Times Square was full of juggled colored lights,
crisscrossed corrugations of glare…"
"The cab turns sharp into a square glowering with
"Glasses rise and tip glinting…."
"On the ceiling she can see the changing glow of
"…grazing her with sharpcutting glints…"
Prose writers can learn from these examples. A striking image or
idea or metaphor loses its impact if repeated too many times. And,
as this case makes clear, even a well-known author can be guilty of
Ted Gioia is the author of eight books. His most recent is The Jazz
Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire, published by Oxford University Press.
Almost every author relies on certain recurring
stylistic devices and flourishes, but when they are
overused they take on the appearance of an
involuntary verbal tic. An unpleasant obsessive
quality emerges that undermines the intensity of
Here are examples from John Dos Passos's 1925
novel Manhattan Transfer. Every few pages, Dos Passos
attempts to temper the gritty realism of his novel with some
'fine descriptive prose'. For Dos Passos, this invariably means a
reference to reflected light. But he doesn't know when to quit, and
long before the midpoint of the novel, this image turns stale. Sad to
say, even light loses its luster.
Anatomy of an Author's Tic:
Dos Passos & Reflected Light
By Ted Gioia
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