Good morning Computer! Hi Readers!
Today I’m in search of the perfect sentence. You know that elusive structure that makes hearts flutter or breathing stop when you realize you’ve finally nailed the idea, the image, the moment just as it should be, and you’ve done it with your own fine prose.
Here’s an example–not mine, unfortunately, but one from a brilliant writer named Nabokov. “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”
Feel the flutter inside your chest? Wonder how he did that? Me, too.
1) He didn’t waste a single word.
2) He didn’t use “over-the-top” words. He chose simple ones.
3) He set the tone and captured Humbert Humbert’s passion without “telling” us what that passion is.
4) He didn’t use one cliche. How diminished this line would be if he’d written. “I love Lolita more than anyone else in the world.”
5) He made the line sing. There’s rhythm and rhyme to it.
Here are some other favorites of mine.
“Her body moved with frankness that comes from solitary habits.” Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer
“I’m rich, famous, and if Esther really has left me, I’ll soon find someone to replace her.” Coelho, The Zahir
The following sample has a lot of sentences that knit together the emotional cloak of Marina’s story.
“What is left that is heartbreaking? Not death: death is ordinary. What is heartbreaking is the sight of a single gull lifting effortlessly from a street lamp. Its wings unfurl like silk scarves against the mauve sky, and Marina hears the rustle of its feathers. What is heartbreaking is that there is still beauty in the world.” Dean, The Madonnas of Lenningrad
What I’m Celebrating Today
- I can recognize those perfect sentences.
- I practice writing those perfect sentences.
- I can read those perfect sentences.
Quote for the Day
I think this is exactly what those “perfect” sentences do.
“Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” Hannah Arendt, Political Philosopher
It is amazing how powerful the simple can be, but often so hard to achieve. I read today that are mine thinks 3000 words a minute (or something like that)- this could be why it is so hard to be as simple in our writing- our minds are spewing out words and thoughts. 🙂
Catherine Stine says
Certainly powerful lines don't need to be long and complex. Camus' first line in The Stranger is huge, yet simple:
Maman died today.
Mark Noce says
A good quest. I'm often in search of one myself. I'm very particluar about the first line of a story. That one sentance needs to be enough to give me inspiration to write another 100,000 words, so it's got to be a good one.
What an awesome topic. Perfect sentences are such a gift when we run across them.
J.L. Campbell says
Always good to study what makes a sentence sing.
You are one of the winners in my Who's Your Hero Contest.
Congrats! I'll be in touch, Lee.
Tara Tyler R says
i am always practicing the perfect sentence… it's tough! but great for blurbing =)
great advice and examples!
Nick Wilford says
Those are some good ones. I don't consider myself very poetic with words but I can keep trying.
Matthew MacNish says
Hi Lee! Just popping in to say how glad I am to be co-hosting the A to Z Challenge with you next year.
M. J. Joachim says
I'm just a little overwhelmed with this one, Lee. Sometimes the most imperfect thing is the most beautiful, even in writing. I get what you're saying and all, but creating perfect sentences are like picking perfect fruit. Each can be delightful and perfect in its own way, but one rotten one can really spoil the whole bunch of them in a hurry too.
Holly Vance says
I could quote The Great Gatsby sentences: to me, Fitzgerald's writing is poetry.
Sit down and relax. Yes, it's me! I love how you write to an audience. I'm too shy to address my posts to an audience. I address my posts to the one person on the other side of the screen.
In grade ten high school English class, the teacher asked us to write a maximum 500 words our thoughts on the interrogative adverb word,"why". I submitted, "Why not?"
Penny knows of the pawfect sentence.
As per usual and forever n'stuff, your starstruckest fan,
Peaches Ledwidge says
Yes, I like those "perfect sentences."
Loni Townsend says
Great examples. Ah, if only I had your skill to recognize. Sometimes it's talent, and other times it's practice.
Great post! I'm still trying to recognize the 'perfect sentence'. I've no doubt I'll get there eventually. Have a great night. Eva
Dianne K. Salerni says
Let's just all remember that the perfect sentences written above probably took several revisions and a lot of hair-pulling to create. For all we know, Nabokov's first draft started out with: I really have the hots for Lolita. 😉
I love how Robert R. McCammon writes. His words sing.
Christine Rains says
Great quotes and sentences. I try to be as concise as possible. It's been a long learning process to not waste words. I'm still working on it!
L.G. Keltner says
I admire authors that can produce wonderful sentences like this. For some, it seems to be a gift. Behind the scenes though, they probably struggled to make the words sing as they now do. Maybe if we work hard and smart enough, we can do it too!
D Biswas says
I do rhythm, a lot.
I write stuff like:
She heard no sound, but what heartbreak makes a noise, what last breath explodes? The death of hope is silent too. No matter. She will stand, watch herself curl back to what she once was, and return to where she came from.
I think rhythm comes from varying sentence lengths, using scattered rhyme, and also working in threes : I tend to divide my sentence in threes.
I don't think my work has reached sublime levels yet, but I live in hope, and keep practicing.
Peaches Ledwidge says
"…varying sentence lengths".
My Burma wifi is working at theme tub to know it won't last. Just want to say hi and Tks for the visits.
Michelle Wallace says
Those perfect sentences always have a distinct rhythm/rhyme…a certain musicality…
Hilary Melton-Butcher says
Hi Lee – I thought you were going to give us 'sublime Burma … disparate country … how could she lead them to political enlightenment' – but no … good sentences and quotes always engage don't they .. cheers Hilary
Sharon Himsl says
Motivating when we find them. You always know…..makes you want to re-read and savor.
Shooting Stars Mag says
I love a great sentence, or even a good quote. They are just wonderfully written.
Sarah Foster says
Guh! I adore Lolita. I wish I could write as well as Nabokov.
it's that last bit that gets you-"Fire of my loins". It is shocking and yet the passion is soooo there. You are right about less is more and using just the right words make it flow magically.
Those are lovely sentences. I'd better get practicing!
[email protected] says
Cornbread ain't nothing without the cracklings. dc
Vanessa Morgan says
One of my favorite writers is Carol Drinkwater. Her sentences are pure beauty.
Catherine Stine says
I tell my students, just build one good sentence on top of the one before it.
Joylene Nowell Butler says
I have several favourite sentences, but today it is "I am happy for absolutely no apparent reason."
Southpaw HR Sinclair says
Those are wonderful sentences. Some day…
Susan Gourley/Kelley says
I like what you're thankful for. I wish I could write those perfect sentences.
T. Powell Coltrin says
I love a well knitted sentence of beautiful colors.
Marilyn Parel says
Hopefully I'll be able to craft some of those perfect sentences too one day.
L. Diane Wolfe says
Now create thousands of those perfect lines and you have a great book.
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
I don't do rhythm well, but I can do simple!