Friday, July 01, 2011

How To Craft The Perfect Sentence, Part 1

by CWK

The perfect sentence = a sentence labored over, written and rewritten, until it is polished and sculpted to perfection: a sentence that has passed through the refiner’s fire unto pure gold.

Crafting perfect sentences involves doing all in your power toward excellence; it is not about crafting the best sentence ever written; rather, about making this sentence the best it can be.

1. Craft sentences – don’t write them.

See yourself as a worker, a craftsman, whose labor involves crafting the perfect sentence. The  carpenter strives to fashion the perfect table; the writer strives to fashion the perfect sentence.

So, dear writers, you are craftsmen. Your raw materials are words; your tools are grammar and diction.

2. Simplify; Streamline; Excise.

Strunk: “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”
3. Read the sentence aloud.

When you read your sentence aloud listen -- listen especially for rhythym, and clarity.

Rhythym: How does your sentence sound? It should sound smooth, even rhythmic. It should affect an appropriate pace.

Read these two sentences aloud:

And the shadow I utterly reject.
I utterly reject the shadow.

The first sentence is from Tolkien’s Return of the King. The second, my rewrite. Notice that the two sentences have utterly different rhythms. The first SOUNDS good; the second doesn’t. And the second I utterly reject.

4. Clarity.

Does your sentence say what it means on the FIRST reading. Or, do you need to reread it to understand it? If you need to reread it, you need to rewrite it.

Read these two sentences aloud:

One day in the future I hope that I will be able to write a book which is really unique because it tells the story of my own life.
I will write a book about my own unique life.

The first is unclear, even on several readings. The second is clear on the first reading.

“Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You shd. hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken. If it does not sound nice, try again (Letters of C.S. Lewis, 291-292).”

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