Tuesday, January 25, 2011

For the love of sentences

When I had barely begun as a creative writer, I was lucky enough to take a class with Verlyn Klinkenborg. He focused our attention on sentences. Every week he harvested sentences from all of our submitted papers and handed out a sheet entitled "some sentences." It would more appropriately have been entitled, "some sentence disasters." Each class period, we revised these mistakes into clear, useful sentences and discussed why the earlier versions were confusing, unclear, and grammatically incorrect. It was eye-opening to me. I had taught first year writing seminars at my college holistically, as I was taught, emphasizing essay structure and ignoring sentences. Now I was caught by sentences, their simplicity and complexity, by how some people could write a whole page sentence that I could understand easily, by the way that others stuck to the simplest forms of sentence.
A new book by Stanley Fish explores sentences and argues convincingly for writers to pay attention to them. Here is one of Fish's favorite sentences: "And the words slide into the slots ordained by syntax and glitter as with atmospheric dust with those impurities that we call meaning." He cites Anthony Burgess's novel Enderby Outside. I like the way this sentence portrays words, sentences, and meanings.


Anonymous said...

That's some sentence, Laura. It sparkles too. The sentence sounds like a freight train with slots into which containers can fit, and the whole has an emanation of meaning like the vision "train" would have. I like that a lot! CJ

Anonymous said...

Sometimes its fun to write a 100 word sentence, trying to make sure it's grammatically correct and makes sense to read. Quite a challenge!

Anonymous said...

I like short sentences better. Did you try that six word biography idea that was put up by Smith a year or so ago? One that the radio cited was "Baby shoes for sale, never used." My friend wrote, "Lived, loved, ate lots, got diabetes." CCR

S Kay Murphy said...

Two of my favorite short sentences of all time:
Jesus wept.
Hey, Boo.
Behind both reside the unfathomable complexity of human emotion. Yet I adore Faulkner, who could write a sentence to fill a page. (See The Sound and the Fury.)
Here's my six-word sentence to describe this day, Monday, Jan. 31, 2011:
Long day teaching; brought good tea.

Lorelei said...

Hi Kay and CCR,
Here's my favorite six word bio about myself:

South, North, West unwind, relax, live.

Of course, that leaves out husbands, kids, and dogs, all of whom are rather important. Six words is so few!

cheers, Laura