(image: http://media.web.britannica.com/eb-media/17/82717-004-A8CF0474.jpg)

Dickens pondering writing a sentence. Well, Dickens photographed in the clich├ęd pose of pondering writing a sentence.


One thing I would like to do, certainly after I have an academic position but possibly while I'm still at BSU through the Writing Center, is develop a class on how to write a sentence.

Writing a sentence might seem an easy thing to do, but it is actually very difficult to do well and there is a lot of technique and theory behind it, technique and theory I have been studying for more than twenty years. There's a reason why Dickens wrote "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times," and not "Things were kind of good and kind of bad all at once." Knowing why one works so much better than the other is a question of euphonics and semiotics, and, though I have yet to take a writing course at this university, my understanding from talking to people who have, particularly those in the BFA program, is that the emphasis is on practice, practice, practice and not on the essentials of what makes that practice efficient. It's kind of like this: you can probably pound a nail into the wall with your forehead if you practice at it long enough, but it would be much easier to use the right tool (a hammer), and that will make your practice more efficient, less painful, more productive, and you'd probably do a hell of a lot better and a far less messy job.

So I want to throw this out there and see if there's any ideas.

One place to begin would be to identify good sentences that have already been published. I have a couple of favorites:

Call me Ishmael. From Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
To be or not to be, that is the question. From Hamlet by William Shakespeare.
You been wantin it, he told her. From Child of God by Cormac Mc-Carthy.

I haven't examined the second and third sentences too closely as of yet, but volumes could be written about the first--Call me Ishmael--and why it is one of the best sentences ever written. So if anyone has any sentences to add, feel free to, and, just as importantly, include why they are effective if you can--what it is at the technical level that makes them work. Thanks.

Here's a string of some of my own which open my novel, The Other Side, published by Simon and Schuster, that I think aren't too bad:

These are the times. A tall man with head bowed stands beside a desk, his trembling fingers resting upon a newspaper headline. Eyes search the sky, dark eyes lift from heat burdened hills to seek a blinding sight. A wagon wheel groans, wrapped in the scent of sweating horses. Scarred backs glisten in the sun. In the heart of the world a nation cracks like an egg. These are the times.

There are about fifteen different aesthetic concepts that went into writing these seven sentences (originally thought up while riding into Denver on my old Harley Davidson). Anyone care to try to identify some of them?






EuphonicsStuff
SemioticsStuff
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