I Am the Cheese
by Robert Cormier
Analysis: Writing Style
Staccato, Transcribed, Anticipatory
Those are all pretty scary words, so let's take a look one by one:
A staccato style is short or disjointed (you'll know exactly what we're talking about if you're a musician). The author of I Am the Cheese uses really short sentences or phrasings that don't always flow well from one to the next. You know. It's hard to describe. Not that it's bad. It works for the story. (Get the picture?) Here's an example from the text to give you an idea:
The package is wet but I don't mind. The rain continues. I watch the map dissolving. And I am suddenly hungry, ravenous. I am starved. I can't ever remember being as hungry as this. (11.2).
Of course, it's impossible to keep all the sentences extremely short (that would make for a really boring and frustrating read, right?) but even longer sentences tend to have phrases that don't flow perfectly from one to the next. This isn't bad writing style, it's intentional, and it adds to the unsettling tone.
This staccato tone is emphasized, of course, through the use of transcribed dialogue. A transcription is the written version of something spoken. In parts of the book, Cormier actually writes out dialogue as a transcript:
A: I hate dogs
T: All dogs?
A: Most of them.
T: Why is that? (8.3)
This is in contrast to indirect dialogue, which might be written like this:
"I hate dogs," complained A.
"All dogs?" asked T.
"Most of them," he responded.
"Why is that?" T wondered.
Using a transcription instead of indirect dialogue eliminates those verbs ("complained," "asked," "responded," "wondered") and in the process, eliminates a level of interpretation on the part of the author. Again, as we mention in the section on "Tone," the author has a no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is attitude.
And finally, anticipatory. When you're anticipating something, it usually means you're excited about it, right? You know something's about to happen, but you're not sure exactly what, when, or how. What we mean by anticipatory here is that the author will give us a little bit of information that we can't understand, only to go ahead and explain it in the following sentences or paragraphs. This happens a lot at the beginning of chapters, but also throughout the text.
For instance: "The dog is ferocious and I am terrified" (7.1) is the first sentence of Chapter 7. You'd think this was a kind of in medias res situation, where we were are being dropped into the middle of a story that was already happening. But instead, it's just a too-soon description of the middle of the story. We get the whole story – beginning to end – throughout the rest of the chapter. This technique adds to the suspense of the book, which is great, seeing that it's a mystery and all.