Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My All-Time Top Five Favorite Sentences: a wordsmith workshop

This post is Part 1 of a series to augment the Tips for Writing Fiction available for free download.

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This week, I'm pleased to introduce guest blogger Jocelyn Crawley, author of Erudition. Her top five favorite sentences unveil the precision writers use to craft their best work.

I don't do much outside of writing except reading. And when I read, I'm always on the lookout for writers that have an innovative way of doing things. Whether the doing involves an exceptional articulation of the absurd or an inventive complication of something simple, ingesting a well-written sentence is an activity that leaves me in a state of mental reverie.

Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to read a lot of really great books that conform to the aforementioned (and somewhat subjective) guidelines for literary excellence. These days, my literary surmisings have caused me to conclude that the following five sentences are amongst my absolute favorites:

#5. "By nature I am fitted to be a hidden observer of people strutting across the stage of life—rather than to be a skilled actor flooded with limelight under the eyes of an audience."
The ingenuity indigenous to this passage is plentiful. In addition to utilizing the ostensibly universal and ubiquitous world as stage metaphor effectively, al-Hakim appropriates the analogy to juxtapose two important and elusive modes of existence: the observer who dissects the behavior of other people and the actor who is subjected to the aforementioned type of dissection.

#4. "The housekeeper and her husband were both of that decent phlegmatic order of people, to whom one may at any time safely communicate a remarkable piece of news without incurring the danger of having one's ears pierced by some shrill ejaculation, and subsequently stunned by a torrent of wordy wonderment."
- Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
Queen of the long sentence, Bronte is likely a cherished, canonized author because her choice of words and their arrangement are as artistic and meaningful as the concepts that the terms are used to articulate. Like thoughtful decorations that enhance the aesthetic appeal of a home, key phrases like decent phlegmatic, shrill ejaculation, and wordy wonderment make the concept Bronte delineates here illustrative in addition to meaningful.

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#3. "A single window slit glowed in the distant stable complex, and she ghosted toward it."
- D.N.Frost, Awakening
Here is a short text that contains several subtle forms of brilliance that induce a deep, cerebral pause. On one level, the author does an excellent job of problematizing our sense of singular space insomuch as we are presented with a distant object that a character is moving towards. In addition to complicating the sentence with the reality of two disparate spaces that may soon be united, the passage utilizes a novel verb to describe the activity that will make the union possible: ghosted.

#2. "On rainy nights in the late eighties, we would swan in and request a booth."
This sentence is great because it opens up with a descriptive reference to the weather as well as the time period in which the narrative unfolds--and the author uses just seven simple words to unveil it all. This is to say nothing of the efficacy resulting from the use of the word swan in place of more prototypical verbs like walk or wander to describe the act of moving from one sphere to another.

#1. "On the sly, Cheri studied his companion's large nose, the greying hairy upper lip, and the little peasant eyes which glanced incuriously at ripe cornfields and scythed meadow."
It seems that there is no activity so simultaneously strange and normative as humans observing one another. In this passage, Colette does an excellent job of detailing the action that Cheri drinks in as a result of observing his companion. The description is effectively innovative, particularly the reference to cut grass with the illustrative phrase scythed meadow.

Jocelyn Crawley is a 30-year-old student who holds B.A.s in English and Religious Studies. Her work has appeared in Jerry Jazz Musician, Nailpolish Stories, Visceral Uterus, Dead Beats, The Idiom, Thrice Fiction, Four and Twenty, Kalyani Magazine and Haggard and Halloo. She is the author of Erudition and Droll.

That's it for this post! Up Next: My guest post for Jocelyn's blog...

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