Analysis is the bread and butter. The meat and potatoes. When you cut into the center of a body paragraph, it better be juicy and savory and delicious. Am I hungry as I write this? Probably. But my stomach full of rye and an eye on the clock leading up to dinner doesn’t change the fact that analysis is what English papers are built on. I’m not exactly asking you guys to write them, but to illustrate my point:
Observation — analysis
Observation — analysis
Observation — analysis
Voila. The structure of a body paragraph. If you’re in school right now, take that to the BANK.
Observation, for all intents and purposes, is simply introducing the thing we’re going to talk about. Analysis is the actual talking. Synthesis is why you’d bother talking in the first place. (If that isn’t the most midwestern sentence, idk what is. Ope, sorry, scuse me for daring to inhale long enough to take up space, lemme just go crawl into a corner now).
If you’re more STEM oriented (which, I mean, come on—we’re all bookish here, right?), observation is the evidence, analysis would be the discussion, and synthesis would be the conclusion. I think. Don’t quote me. I’ve drunk the humanities kool aid.
When I’m writing, analysis is happening all the time. It’s an undercurrent, a tide that pushes and pulls me from the outline phase to the drafting phase and back again as I #plants my way through a draft. My observational eye is always on, always reading what I’ve put on the page—or what I’ve neglected to put on the page—and then analysis kicks in to think about what effect that might have on the reader. It’s what guides me to lengthen chapters or go in different directions with my characters than planned. If I want a different effect, I do X. If I want to really hit home an effect, I do Y.
At the end of the day, what we do is Evoke.
(Potential tattoo pending).
Critical analysis helps me do that better.
We’ve already used “Moonflowers” from James Davis May to practice our observation skills. Now let’s analyze what we’ve found. Admittedly, synthesis is so drilled into me that I’m going to have a hard time separating it from analysis, but I’ll try, fam. We’ll see. Wish me luck and fortitude.
[Nope, tried it in paragraph form and I totally fell into thesis + synthesis. To rectify, I’m just going to copy and paste our list of observations, and I’ll add on the effect each of them has on the reader as my analysis]
Syntax: how it’s saying it.
Despite it being in verse (aka, not prose, or not in paragraph form), May uses normal punctuation. There are commas and dashes at the ends of lines, and there are periods. In total, there are only five sentences. The first is the largest of them all. They get shorter as he goes.
• The long, slow sentence mimics the gentle creeping of moonflowers blooming (“you only notice when you look away and back”)
• The short sentence at the end is startling in opposition to the creeping one. It mimics the “suddenness”—the change the speaker notes in the blooming
Tons of prepositional phrases: AT dusk, BY the fence, AROUND the garden, etc.
• Prepositional phrases situate us, sure, but they slow down the reader. One of my biggest edits is to cut down prepositional strings to 2-3 max, otherwise it starts to feel cumbersome in the mouth. May uses these to slow down that first sentence.
Lots of hedging and filtering: slowly, almost too slow for us to see their moving; you notice only when you look away and back; until the bloom decides, or seems to decide.
• Again, slowing down that first sentence, making it feel less definitive/decisive
Clauses stacked one right after the other—extends that first sentence so it’s longer
• Slowing down that first sentence
Repetition of “and” instead of standard list form: almost the way a newborn screams AND pain AND want AND cold AND still I hear that cry
• Both slows down that first sentence + makes each item feel more overwhelming to the newborn (and the speaker)
Later sentences are shorter and closer to fragments: so now she points; and then she turns
• Adds to the startling vibe of the end
Uses similes more than metaphors: like a sail, as though it screams, almost the way a newborn screams, like Christmas lights
• Similes generally are a more elementary form of comparison than metaphor. They’re how we first explore figurative language. In other words, they’re younger, more inexperienced. They also are less committed to the comparison. If you say “The petals are sails” or the buds “are christmas lights,” it’s more definitive than hedging with “like” or “almost the way.” The similes here are more indecisive, just as the blooms themselves seem to be indecisive (“until the bloom decides, / or seems to decide, the tease is over.”)
Even though in first person, uses second person (you): you notice only when you look away and back
• Second language is usually reserved for universal experiences. If I say you can see this thing, I’m rather certain that you can—that it isn’t just me seeing it. There’s some sort of universality about how subtly this change from unbloomed to bloomed is for these moonflowers.
Connotations: what else it’s saying.
Newborn language: screams, pain, want, cold, cry, shout
• Emphasis on youth, innocence, but also the pain and fear that comes with it. Everything is new to a newborn. Everything is literally the worst thing they’ve experienced
Christmas language: flowers strung along the vine like christmas lights, one not yet lit; praise the world
• Christmas also has an association with youth and innocence—the birth of Jesus, the promise of his life to come. But also because it’s so close to the winter solstice, it has a turning of the cycles vibe to it, a rebirth in cold and darkness.
Looking language: by making others see what we see; watching, notice only when you look away and back; ends with her turning to look at me
• Looking/seeing is a form of praise to these two characters—as we’re told—but also a form of power. They make others see what they see, together, in first person plural (“we”). When his daughter turns that gaze against him, separately from him—no longer a “we” but a “her”—it is just as startling as that short sentence is. She’s accepted her own power as her own person through sight.
Flower language: unclench themselves, unlocks itself from itself, throws its petals backward like a sail in the wind, is to break
• Of note, May uses “Un-“ in his verbs here, and a “backwards”-ness. Becoming is undoing. It’s shedding the clench and the locks and unfurling itself into the forces (re: “wind”) of the world—harnessing them for one’s self. [This one gets dangerously close to an actual thesis, which means it’s very close to synthesis.]
Other interesting language: linger, tease, suddenness; wound; husks
• Lingering/teasing we’ve sort of explored with the slow creep of change, the indecisiveness, how drawn out that first sentence is.
• I find “watching the wound husks / of moonflowers unclench themselves” really fascinating because of the double entendre of “wound.” If you read it another way, it’s an injury instead of something tangled, which parallels with the painful language we get later on; husk also has an age connotation to it, a desiccated vibe that stands in sharp contrast to the youth we see throughout—but it also has an outer shell / protective layer to it. A lot of meaning packed into two short words.
Violent language: scream, pain, cry, shout, throws, breaks, wound (double entendre)
• The act of becoming through undoing is painful. Change is painful. [Again, very close to synthesis here]
That’s it—we’ve analyzed!
HUZZAH! Meat and potatoes—the best part when done right but the most dissatisfying if half-cooked—is complete. Hopefully you can start to see the direction we’re heading here, what our main points will be in the next blog post, or how all of these additional meanings add up to the original content: father and daughter watching moonflowers bloom.
Poems generally are great for practicing obs / an / synth because they’re so damn short that there isn’t a whole lot of room for tangents or juggling multiple meanings. There’s just something that the poem is about. Everything adds up to that one thing. Any guesses what that one thing is, here? If you’re still not sure, don’t worry, we’ll take the time to spell it all out in the Synthesis post.
What can we take way from this as creative writers?
If you’re red-penning your own manuscript and notice that you have a lot of preposition phrases, dope. That’s Step 1. Step 2 is recognizing what your reader will feel about them. Prepositional phrases generally slow us down, throw distance into the sentence even as it’s attempting to situate exactly where/when something is (Tonight AT dusk we linger BY the fence AROUND the garden). There’s a tension–a rate of diminishing returns–with prepositional phrases. Some might be good, too many might be aggravating. That’s a standard mechanic of writing. But you can purposefully wield that knowledge like May does to hit home an effect. If you WANT your readers to slow down, to take note, add in clauses and prepositional phrases. If you want distance—say if your character is traumatized and you want them to talk around something instead of confronting its full power head on—you can throw in a lot of prepositions to add distance.
You can also sort of subliminally trick your reader by picking images that have certain connotations. It makes sense that a moonflower might have a tangled vine or few dried out leaves. But May doesn’t say tangled or dried out. He says wound husks. And that phrase carried a subtle sort of meaning to me. I read “wound” as injury the first time—I’m not gonna lie. There’s a violence there, embedded in the word itself. You can lead your readers with the words you choose because each word has an auxiliary meaning to it, an association or a tone. A vibe. You can use those vibes to put your readers in the headspace you want. You can make them feel something with a single word.
Writers, like our speaker and his daughter, praise the world by making others see what we see. There’s a power in that. A directionality to it. Wield that power with intent, and you’ll evoke one hell of an experience in your readership.