Writing is linear and sequential; Sentence B must follow Sentence A, and Sentence C must follow Sentence B, and eventually you get to Sentence Z. The hard part of writing isn't the writing; it's the thinking. You can solve most of your writing problems if you stop after every sentence and ask: What does the reader need to know next?
The first sentence of the truth is always the hardest. Each of us had a first sentence, and most of us found the strength to say it out loud to someone who deserved to hear it. What we hoped, and what we found, was that the second sentence of the truth is always easier than the first, and the third sentence is even easier than that. Suddenly you are speaking the truth in paragraphs, in pages. The fear, the nervousness, is still there, but it is joined by a new confidence. All along, you've used the first sentence as a lock. But now you find that it's the key.
It's kind of like sentencing. A lot of people say that we have a heavy sentence for this crime and a light sentence for another crime, and what we ought to do is reduce the heavy sentence so it's more in line with the other. Wrong. In most cases we ought to increase the light sentence and make it compatible with the heavy sentence, and be serious about punishment because we are becoming too tolerant as a society, folks, especially of crime, in too many parts of the country.
[In 'Pride and Prejudice'] Mr Collins's repulsiveness in his letter [about Lydia's elopement] does not exist only at the level of the sentence: it permeates all aspects of his rhetoric. Austen's point is that the well-formed sentence belongs to a self-enclosed mind, incapable of sympathetic connections with others and eager to inflict as much pain as is compatible with a thin veneer of politeness. Whereas Blair judged the Addisonian sentence as a completely autonomous unit, Austen judges the sentence as the product of a pre-existing moral agent. What counts is the sentence's ability to reveal that agent, not to enshrine a free-standing morsel of truth. Mr Darcy's letter to Elizabeth, in contrast, features a quite different practice of the sentence, including an odd form of punctation... The dashes in Mr Darcy's letter transform the typographical sentence by physically making each sentence continuous with the next one... The dashes insist that each sentence is not self-sufficient but belongs to a larger macrostructure. Most of Mr Darcy's justification consists not of organised arguments like those of Mr Collins but of narrative... The letter's totality exists not in the typographical sentence but in the described event.
Every sentence has a truth waiting at the end of it and the writer learns how to know it when he finally gets there. On one level this truth is the swing of the sentence, the beat and poise, but down deeper it's the integrity of the writer as he matches with the language. I've always seen myself in sentences. I begin to recognize myself, word by word, as I work through a sentence. The language of my books has shaped me as a man. There's a moral force in a sentence when it comes out right. It speaks the writer's will to live.
A sentence is like a tune. A memorable sentence gives its emotion a melodic shape. You want to hear it again, say it-in a way, to hum it to yourself. You desire, if only in the sound studio of your imagination, to repeat the physical experience of that sentence. That craving, emotional and intellectual but beginning in the body with a certain gesture of sound, is near the heart of poetry.
A sentence is like a tune. A memorable sentence gives its emotion a melodic shape. You want to hear it again, say it""in a way, to hum it to yourself. You desire, if only in the sound studio of your imagination, to repeat the physical experience of that sentence. That craving, emotional and intellectual but beginning in the body with a certain gesture of sound, is near the heart of poetry.
The prospect of his future life stretched before him like a sentence; not a prison sentence but a long-winded sentence with a lot of unnecessary subordinate clauses, as he was soon in the habit of quipping during Happy Hour pickup time at the local campus bars and pubs. He couldn't say he was looking forward to it, this rest-of-his-life.
Never trust the translation or interpretation of something without first trusting its interpreter. One word absent from a sentence can drastically change the true intended meaning of the entire sentence. For instance, if the word love is intentionally or accidentally replaced with hate in a sentence, its effect could trigger a war or false dogma.
This time it was the sentence opening the last part of a story I had worked on for months: a sentence as is often worked off paper first. The pace of narrative and interest in character do not readily help the writer's hand to set down a sentence of that order. For though characters must take things in their own stride - somewhere in his story the writer cannot hold back this sentence that judges them. He wants it unobtrusive to his pace and the characters that caused him to write. The difficulty is to judge without seeming to be there, with a finality in the words that will make them casual and part of the story itself, except perhaps to another age.
But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, 'Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.' So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.
What is the use of the colon? What is a colon? Generally it opens onto an explanation, but it is always done with the help of an interruption. It can be said that the colon is not the period, it is the period of the period, the canceling of the period. It is a moment mute and marked; it is the most delicate tattoo of the text. It is also in place of, instead of, everything that would be causal. For example, when we read: "It's simply that: secret." "Secret, " is a sentence, it is the shortest sentence perhaps. But it is a sentence in one word. It is a sentence that is secret and that at the same time says its name. One could invert and say: "Secret: it is simply that." This is secret, the secret is the secret of this, it is a word which makes infinite sense all by itself, it is a sentence which performs the secret itself [Clarice Lispector, The Stream of Life, trans Elizabeth Lowe and Earl Fitz, Foreword by Hele¨ne Cixous trans Verena Conley, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989]
I turn sentences around. That's my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning. And if I knock off from this routine for as long as a day, I'm frantic with boredom and a sense of waste.
When I was a kid, we used to play this thing called 'the writing game' with our father. My brother and I would play it - where first person writes a sentence, and the second person writes a sentence, and the third person writes a sentence, and so on until you get bored and have to go to bed.
I will quote one sentence from this text, namely, the one with which it ended. It was also the sentence which finally dissolved the writer's block that had inhibited the author from starting work. I have since used it whenever I myself have been gripped by fear of the blank sheet in front of me. It is infallible, and its effect is always the same: the knot unravels and a stream of words gushes out on to the virgin paper. It acts like a magic spell and I sometimes fancy it really is one. But, even if it isn't the work of a sorcerer, it is certainly the most brilliant sentence any writer has ever devised. It runs: 'This is where my story begins.'
Native speakers of a language know intuitively whether a sentence is grammatical or not. They usually cannot specify exactly what is wrong, and very possibly they make the same mistakes in their own speech, but they know-unconsciously, not as a set of rules they learned in school-when a sentence is incorrect.