I’m a collector of words, the interesting, the unusual, the unknown and the downright strange. Since childhood I’ve carried a notebook, always jotting down new words to look up in the dictionary. These days, dictionary.com is a friend and although the iPad is close at hand, the notebook is still a close companion.
But words on their own are just, well, words. For them to glow and give meaning, we need sentences. As a writer, I’m always on the look out for the perfect word, always hoping to construct the perfect sentence.
. . . it’s a struggle.
Stanley Fish says, “If you know sentences, you know everything. Good sentences promise nothing less than lessons and practice in the organisation of the world.”
The professor and author of How to write a sentence and how to read one gives practical advice — with examples by great writers — on crafting good sentences.
His view is that good sentences aren’t about good grammar, they are about form.
Obviously, the different parts of speech dance together to make sentences. But it’s not just about parts of speech fitting together (subject – verb – object). Fish says that a sentence is a structure of logical relationships that are clear.
Relationships is the key word here.
So it follows that we shouldn’t let our nouns dance by themselves or leave our prepositional phrases without their verb partners. Under no circumstances should we allow our phrases to be wallflowers; they should be introduced to perfect partners — to form relationships, to create a beautiful dance.
In order to form the ‘good’ sentence, we must organise our words and phrases into a logical structure, using form (or styles) — which in turn lets our creativity shine through.
Jon McGregor knows how to craft a sentence. His words and phrases are a prefect dance movement, one which shows time, space, relationship, focus and quality.
And the result is . . . beauty!
Here’s an example:
But here, as the dawn sneaks up on the last day of summer, and as a man with tired hands watches a young couple dance in the carpark of his restaurant, there are only these: sparkling eyes, smudged lipstick, fading starlight, the crunching of feet on gravel, laughter, and a slow walk home.
He thinks about her, at this moment, in her house, a few thin walls away, packing life into boxes and bags and he wonders what memories she is rediscovering, what thoughts are catching in her mouth like the dust blown from unused textbooks.
From If nobody speaks of remarkable things – Jon McGregor
Talk to any writer and they’ll tell you the craft of writing isn’t easy. According to Stanley Fish however, by focusing on the relationships of the words and phrases, asking questions like “what does it go with?” or “what does it support?” or “what is it referring to?” – we can develop the sentence’s logical structure and with practice, create something beautiful.
And it follows that if you can write a ‘good’ sentence, then you can write a paragraph, an essay, a novel.
What’s the most beautiful sentence you’ve read? Please share!