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.
For any writer, the ability to look at a sentence and see what's superfluous, what can be altered, revised, expanded, and, especially, cut, is essential. It's satisfying to see that sentence shrink, snap into place, and ultimately emerge in a more polished form: clear, economical, sharp.
Writing keeps me at my desk, constantly trying to write a perfect sentence. It is a great privilege to make one's living from writing sentences. The sentence is the greatest invention of civilization. To sit all day long assembling these extraordinary strings of words is a marvelous thing... For me, a line has to sing before it does anything else. The great thrill is when a sentence that starts out being completely plain suddenly begins to sing, rising far above itself and above any expectation I might have had for it. That's what keeps me going on those dark December days when I think about how I could be living instead of writing.
I usually start writing a novel that I then abandon. When I say abandon, I don't think any writer ever abandons anything that they regard as even a half-good sentence. So you recycle. I mean, I can hang on to a sentence for several years and then put it into a book that's completely different from the one it started in.
In dialogue, make sure that your attributives do not awkwardly interrupt a spoken sentence. Place them where the breath would come naturally in speech-that is, where the speaker would pause for emphasis, or take a breath. The best test for locating an attributive is to speak the sentence aloud.
E. B. White
I revise constantly, as I go along and then again after I've finished a first draft. Few of my novels contain a single sentence that closely resembles the sentence I first set down. I just find that I have to keep zapping and zapping the English language until it starts to behave in some way that vaguely matches my intentions.
There is a slovenly disrespect for truth and reality that has infected and cross-infected the arts; the values of entertainment are relentlessly in the ascendant, to the extent that it becomes virtually impossible to write a naturalistic fictional sentence without feeling that the fabric of that sentence is already compromised.
All questions of process require an answer that begins with a very important sentence, and the sentence is: 'Everybody is different.' Whatever way of working you name - methodical, haphazard, gets up early in the morning, sleeps all day, works at night, revises immensely, never revises at all - someone has made great work with that way.
Gregor flushed as he went on: "The entire content of the Confesions could be put into one single sentence in the book: when Augustine addresses God, saying: 'Thou hast made us for Thyself and our heart is unquiet until it rests in Thee.' This sentence, my lords and friends, is immortal. It contains the very heart of religion.
Louis de Wohl
Writing keeps me at my desk, constantly trying to write a perfect sentence. It is a great privilege to make one's living from writing sentences. The sentence is the greatest invention of civilization. To sit all day long assembling these extraordinary strings of words is a marvelous thing. I couldn't ask for anything better. It's as near to godliness as I can get.
Some readers read a book as if it were an instruction manual, expecting to understand everything first time, but of course when you write, you put into every sentence an overflow of meaning, and you create in every sentence as many resonances and double meanings and ambiguities as you can possibly pack in there, so that people can read it again and get something new each time.
That doesn't make any sense. Sorry. There's no known way of saying an English sentence in which you begin a sentence with "in" and emphasize it. Get me a jury and show me how you can say"In July" and I'll go down on you. That's just idiotic, if you'll forgive me for saying so. It's just stupid... "In July"; I'd love to know how you emphasize "In" in "In July". Impossible!Meaningless!
All things are made of atoms-little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence ... there is an enormous amount of information about the world. His suggestion that the most valuable information on scientific knowledge in a single sentence using the fewest words is to state the atomic hypothesis.
Richard P. Feynman
As I see it, a successful story of any kind should be almost like hypnosis: You fascinate the reader with your first sentence, draw them in further with your second sentence and have them in a mild trance by the third. Then, being careful not to wake them, you carry them away up the back alley of your narrative and when they are hopelessly lost within the story, having surrendered themselves to it, you do them terrible violence with a softball bag and then lead them whimpering to the exit on the last page. Believe me, they'll thank you for it.
Would there not be the greatest reason to apprehend, that error in the first sentence would be the parent of error in the second sentence? That the strong bias of one decision would be apt to overrule the influence of any new lights, which might be brought to vary the complexion of another decision? Those, who know any thing of human nature, will not hesitate to answer these questions in the affirmative.
I've read this same sentence about twenty times since you came in." Anybody else except Ackley would've taken the goddamn hint. Not him though... "What the hellya reading?" "Goddamn book." He shoved my book back with his hand so that he could see the name on it. "Any good?" he said. "This sentence I'm reading is terrific.
It makes Brooke feel strange in her stomach. It is like the feeling when she reads a book like the one about the man with the bomb, or thinks a sentence, just any old sentence like: the girl ran across the park, and unless you add the describing word then the man or the girl are definitely not black, they are white, even though no one has mentioned white, like when you take the the out of a headline and people just assume it's there anyway. Though if it were a sentence about Brooke herself you'd have to add the equivalent describing word and that's how you'd know. The black girl ran across the park.
Now (obviously) a sentence's truth-even when we hold the sentence's meaning fixed-depends on which world we are considering. 'Brown is Prime Minister' is true in the actual world but, since Brown need not have been Prime Minister, there are countless worlds in which 'Brown is Prime Minister' is false: in those worlds, Brown did not succeed Tony Blair, or never went into politics, or never even existed. And in some other worlds, someone else is Prime Minister - David Cameron, P. F. Strawson, me, Madonna, or Daffy Duck. In still others, there is no such office as Prime Minister, or not even a Britain; and so on and so forth. So a given sentence or proposition varies its truth-value from world to world.
William G. Lycan
The secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that's already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure of who is doing what""these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to the education and rank.
Isn't one of the first lessons of good elocution that there's nothing one can say in any rambling, sprawling rant that can't, through some effort, be said shorter and better with a little careful editing? Or that, in writing, there's nothing you can describe in any page-filling paragraph that can't be captured better in just a sentence or two? Perhaps even nothing in any sentence which cannot better be refined in a single, spot-on word? Does it not follow, then, that there's likely nothing one can say in any word - in saying anything at all - that, ultimately, isn't better left unsaid? (attrib: F.L. Vanderson)
Mort W. Lumsden
What is easy to read has been difficult to write. The labour of writing and rewriting, correcting and recorrecting, is the due exacted by every good book from its author, even if he knows from the beginning exactly what he wants to say. A limpid style is invariably the result of hard labour, and the easily flowing connection of sentence with sentence and paragraph with paragraph has always been won by the sweat of the brow.
G. M. Trevelyan
Exclamation points are the most irritating of all. Look! they say, look at what I just said! How amazing is my thought! It is like being forced to watch someone else's small child jumping up and down crazily in the center of the living room shouting to attract attention. If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn't need a mark to point it out. And if it is really, after all, a banal sentence needing more zing, the exclamation point simply emphasizes its banality!
I've always told people that for each person there is a sentence-a series of words-which has the power to destroy him. When Fat told me about Leon Stone I realized (this came years after the first realization) that another sentence exists, another series of words, which will heal the person. If you're lucky you will get the second; but you can be certain of getting the first: that is the way it works.
Philip K. Dick
Every sentence in order to have definite scientific meaning must be practically or at least theoretically verifiable as either true or false upon the basis of experimental measurements either practically or theoretically obtainable by carrying out a definite and previously specified operation in the future. The meaning of such a sentence is the method of its verification.
Walter A. Shewhart
Good writing is the hardest form of thinking. It involves the agony of turning profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear. If the writing is good, then the result seems effortless and inevitable. But when you want to say something life-changing or ineffable in a single sentence, you face both the limitations of the sentence itself and the extent of your own talent.
To anyone who has followed the practice of using profanity or vulgarity and would like to correct the habit, could I offer this suggestion? First, make the commitment to erase such words from your vocabulary. Next, if you slip and say a swear word or a substitute word, mentally reconstruct the sentence without the vulgarity or substitute word and repeat the new sentence aloud. Eventually you will develop a non-vulgar speech habit.
L. Tom Perry
Read non-fiction. History, biology, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology. Get a bodyguard and do fieldwork. Find your inner fish. Don't publish too soon. Not before you have read Thomas Mann in any case. Learn by copying, sentence by sentence some of the masters. Copy Coetzee's or Sebald's sentences and see what happens to your story. Consider creative non-fiction if you want to stay in South Africa. It might be the way to go. Never neglect back and hamstring exercises, otherwise you won't be able to write your novel. One needs one's buttocks to think.
Marlene van Niekerk