When I was a much younger writer I wanted to be able to write impressive sentences. My young writer’s ego most certainly had something to do with this, but vanity is only fear looking for cover behind something authentic. In this case, that authentic thing was the magical transformation I had observed between the first and last words of certain sentences. Sometimes a sentence is like a single trick within a magician’s entire routine. The magician shows you the ace of spades, and you watch that card and his hands closely because you want to be fooled but you don’t want to be fooled, and somehow within his precise flurry of gestures the ace becomes a queen.
So it is with certain sentences. A sentence is a transformation of thought through words, and if the transformation is dramatic enough and seamless enough, the reader arrives at the last word surprised by the transformation in which she has just participated. The reader, after all, read every word, watched the sentence as closely as an audience watches the magician’s hand, and yet this surprising transformation occurred, as if you had been lulled to sleep then snapped awake by a period.
Like the magician, the writer’s magic occurs within what the reader cannot see. The magician holds the queen even as he shows the ace. So it is with the writer, holding within his imagination the coming transformation. Unlike the magician, the writer himself does not know what he is holding until it appears, for he has never attempted this exact trick before.
This is where reader and writer meet; this is why reading is called magical. At its best, both participants are equally surprised and delighted to behold that which has been pulled from the top hat of our imagination. How did that happen? Neither of us really knows. We are all children at the party after the magician has gone, leaving behind the remnants of his trick and a lingering belief in what cannot be seen.
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