How to write the perfect sentence

Written by Joe Moran, professor of English and Cultural History at Liverpool John Moores University and author of ‘Armchair Nation: An Intimate History of Britain in Front of the Television’. 

Courtesy of Guardian News & Media Ltd

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Extract from a page of Gustave Flaubert’s manuscript of Madame Bovary. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Orwell advised cutting as many words as possible, Woolf found energy in verbs, and Baldwin aimed for ‘a sentence as clean as a bone’. What can we learn from celebrated authors about the art of writing well?

Every writer, of school age and older, is in the sentences game. The sentence is our writing commons, the shared ground where all writers walk. A poet writes in sentences, and so does the unsung author who came up with “Items trapped in doors cause delays”. The sentence is the Ur-unit, the core material, the granular element that must be got right or nothing will be right. For James Baldwin, the only goal was “to write a sentence as clean as a bone”.

What can celebrated writers teach the rest of us about the art of writing a great sentence? A common piece of writing advice is to make your sentences plain, unadorned and invisible. George Orwell gave this piece of advice its epigram: “Good prose is like a windowpane.” A reader should notice the words no more than someone looking through glass notices the glass.

Except that you do notice the glass. Picture an English window in 1946, when Orwell wrote that sentence. It would be smeared with grime from smoke and coal dust and, since houses were damp and windows single-glazed, wont to mist and ice over. The glass might still be cracked from air-raid gunfire or bombs, or covered with shatterproof coating to protect people from flying shards. An odd metaphor to use, then, for clear writing.

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Liebster Award: I’ve been nominated!

LiebsterAward

Yay! I was so chuffed to be nominated for the Liebster award by awesome author and blogger, JI Rogers. It was just over a month ago (how time flies when you’re having fun writing, or sitting thinking about writing, or just sitting…). But now I’m acting on that nomination and passing on to another 11 people.

So, the Liebster Award; this is how it works:

‡ Step 1
Acknowledge the person who nominated you

Thank you JI Rogers for the nomination! She’s a very special author and blogger; do go and visit her site: jirogers-author.com to see all that she’s working on. She’s an artist too, see her work at mythspinnerstudios.com

I first came across Jenn through her Six Word Story Challenge and have been having fun with it ever since. And I recently read Book One of the Korpes Files and you should too! It’s a really good read… and I can’t wait for the second book to be published. See my ‘Good Reads’ review of it over there on the right.

‡ Step 2
Answer the 11 questions your nominator asked you

  1. What do you feel is the best blog post you’ve written to date and why?

It was a little flash fiction piece entitled ‘The Beautiful Game?‘ which was prompted by an article I read about domestic violence increasing in the UK during the World (Soccer) Cup. I provoked some interesting reactions and I hope helped to raise awareness.

  1. If you had to choose one of your current projects to tell a group of strangers about, what would it be?

It would have to be my work-in-progress novel. I’m nearing the end of the first major draft and I’m getting quite excited about it, so I hope my enthusiasm would come across.

  1. Who in your life (living or dead) provided you with the best inspiration?

My high school geography teacher. She was an eccentric ‘old school’ spinster who had fantastic enthusiasm for travel and life in general. She was at Cambridge University in the early 1950s, a scholarship girl too. We thought her rather old and quite batty at the time, but then she’d have been more than 10 years younger than I am now (which is a bit scary, thinking about it). She didn’t partticularly inspire me to write, but to live bravely.

  1. What book would you recommend that everyone read?

Mine of course! – The Silver Locket
Otherwise, for aspiring writers I’d say ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King.
And for a beautiful read and to experience the craft in action: any novel by Isabel Allende or Kate Atkinson or Margaret Atwood or Jane Austin… that’s just the ‘A’s.

  1. What is your favourite movie?

No contest: ‘Casablanca’. A total classic and timeless.

  1. Hypothetical: You’re a well-paid guinea-pig being abandoned on a remote tropical island for an extended period (several years). You have ample food supplies, shelter (even indoor plumbing), electricity, and a decent computer… but the internet is non-existent, and you will have no human contact. One of the scientists takes pity on you and will leave you an external drive with movies, TV/Netflix series, games, and books on it, but the catch is it can only be one genre. Which genre would you choose?

This is the hardest question. I just want to say ‘fiction’, but I don’t think that’s really an answer. I could narrow it down to ‘Speculative Fiction’… I’d be happy just take the books!

  1. Cat, dog or other?

Cat. Have you met Luna?

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  1. When you’re being creative, do you prefer quiet or some form of sound (music, audiobook…) in the background?

Quiet suits me. My writing room has windows into the garden, so there is a soundtrack: birdsong, the chattering of squirrels and the clucking of my hens. Once I’m in ‘the zone’ I can write almost anywhere and under almost any conditions.

  1. What can move you more, images or words?

Words; they create the mental pictures. That’s why I prefer radio to TV a lot of the time.

  1. If you could be assured of accomplishing one thing with your life, what would be your magnum opus?

A brilliant, acclaimed, best-selling, literary novel preferably recognised during my lifetime. Otherwise all the proceeds go the cat!

  1. What is your favourite colour?

I find yellow very stimulating and that’s the colour of the walls in my writing room. Not a colour I’d wear though.

‡ Step 3
Nominate 11 other bloggers

C J Stark: http://seejaystark.com/

Debra Tracy, Nana’s World Web: https://nanasworldweb.com/

Ellie Scott: https://www.elliescott.co.uk/

gwladysdillon: https://whenyougorragoyougorragetgoing.wordpress.com/

The Haunted Wordsmith: https://thehauntedwordsmith.wordpress.com/

Nicole Melanson, Word Mothers: https://wordmothers.com/

Mickey & Yunni, Freja Travels: https://frejatravels.com

Thomas Stark, Short Worlds: https://shortworlds.wordpress.com/

The Dark Netizen: https://thedarknetizen.wordpress.com/

Adam West, The Writer of Age: https://writerofage.com/

Wide Eyed Wanderer: https://wideeyedwanderingspoonie.wordpress.com/

‡ Step 4
Ask them 11 questions:

  1. We are an international community. Where in the world do you come from and where do you live now?
  2. Plotter or pantser?
  3. What’s on your writing desk?
  4. What have you written which has given you a real buzz?
  5. What distracts you most when you are writing?
  6. How do you select the names of your characters?
  7. What do you enjoy most about the writing process?
  8. Have you ever sought revenge on someone by doing something bad to them in a story? Or conversely, have you given someone a happy ending?
  9. What’s the strangest thing you’ve done by way of research for your writing?
  10. You’re hosting a dinner with three other writers (living or dead). Who’s invited?
  11. What are you reading at the moment?

‡ Step 5
Let them know you’ve nominated them

Here goes… everyone should get a pingback!
Dear Nominees,
Don’t feel you have to react to the ‘chain letter’ element of this if you don’t want to, but if you do, please take the opportunity to promote yourself and your work BIG TIME

And finally, from me…

…and especially for you, dear reader, a heads up to let you know that my short story collection ‘A Sextet of Shorts’ will be free to download on Kindle from 1st to 7th August.

And if any of my nominees wish to post an offer or a link to any of their work anywhere in a reply to the award, the floor is yours!

FREE ON KINDLE!

SPECIAL OFFER
For this week only (23rd to 27th April) my collection of short stories entitled “A Sextet of Shorts” is free to download on your Kindle!
Click on the ‘Buy on Amazon’ box below – it’s free!!

Visit my Amazon author page – click here