‘Four Men In A Cave’ by Stephen Crane

Four Men In A Cave by Stephen Crane, 1892

The magic trick:

Simple, strong, active writing

I’m not very good at reading aloud. I stumble over my words. I clear my throat every other sentence. It’s pretty bad.

So, imagine my surprise when I just so happened to be reading “Four Men In A Cave” out loud and found myself buzzing through the text like a brilliant orator. I had the words flowing. No coughing. I was finding the emotional accents at the right moments. Amazing.

How did this happen?

It’s the text. Simple, strong writing. Active verbs. Active voice. And that’s quite a trick on Crane’s part.

The selection:

The passage turned abruptly. The little man put one hand around the corner, but it touched nothing. He investigated and discovered that the little corridor took a sudden dip down a hill. At the bottom shone a yellow light.

The little man wriggled painfully about, and descended feet in advance. The others followed his plan. All picked their way with anxious care. The traitorous rocks rolled from beneath the little man’s feet and roared thunderously below him, lesser stone loosened by the men above him, hit him on the back. He gained seemingly firm foothold, and, turning halfway about, swore redly at his companions for dolts and careless fools. The pudgy man sat, puffing and perspiring, high in the rear of the procession. The fumes and smoke from four pine-knots were in his blood. Cinders and sparks lay thick in his eyes and hair. The pause of the little man angered him.


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