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Post by GeeGee55 » August 5th, 2010, 9:02 pm

How much time do you spend thinking about sentence structure when you're writing? I confess I spend a lot. I can spend an hour considering the right words and form for one sentence.

Here's a favorite sentence of mine from a short story "From Beautiful People" by Kenneth Hunt. I love it because it is long but clear and because it echoes the emotional state of the boy, it builds and builds to a climax. It serves more than one purpose in the story. All one sentence:

Troy hated his body, and the cot too, and as he lay there with his eyes open, seeing nothing but darkness, he felt the cold of the basement penetrating his blanket and he hated that too, and slowly his hate expanded outwards, it engulfed his aunt, hating her snoring and her madness and her sloth, and her going on living, living, when she didn't deserve to, when she added nothing to the universe, and his hate crept up the stairs which would surely fall down during the night, trapping them, and it expanded into the house, and as it rolled from the back to the front, he found that lying there in the cot below he could hate every inch of it equally and perfectly; it was destined for decline, abandonment, and ultimate collapse, as was everything that entered it, and his hate spilled into the porch, but it wasn't trapped; it managed to flow out the front door, make a leap into the world, where it sought out his father and found him across the country in a small apartment with another woman and another child, and it was easy to hate them all; his hate could even expand to the edge of the sea and then beyond, across to Scandinavia and the beautiful people, for what had beauty ever given them; it was worthless, worthless, and his hate continued, gaining speed, and from his cot he could hate every inch of the solar system, with its clockwork motions and its beautiful things that no one will ever see, except in books; it seemed cruel that it should go on being such an amazing place and yet remain so far out of reach; it should have the decency to remain unknown instead of creating a longing to visit it, a longing that could never, never be fulfilled, and his hate kept on expanding outward, even still, until he found he could hate his mother, hate her for not being stronger, hate her for getting cancer, for not fighting harder, for abandoning him to his aunt, and then his hate was a natural force, filling every space in creation, stronger than gravity, and as tears started coming, he felt that his hate would go on expanding, expanding, racing away from him, exploring the universe, finding new civilizations to hate, for they were sure to be beautiful and worthless, and this is when his hate burst and collapsed on itself and he was asleep.

And here's another sentence from Ernest Hemingway's "Big Two-Hearted River" Steven King says it's one of his favorite sentences in his "On Writing".

The river was there.

In order to appreciate the sentence it helps to have some background. A soldier returns to a town he had known, searches for something familiar but everything has been destroyed in the war, then he goes to the river. Rather than go into a big description of the river, Hemingway kept it simple and the emotional impact is far greater because of his choice. But then again, he was brilliant.

When you're writing/revising how much do you consider the emotional impact your sentences carry and not just whether or not you are using variety in your sentence structure?
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Post by sbs_mjc1 » August 5th, 2010, 9:06 pm

Sometimes. Neither Mike or I have any illusions of being the next Hemmingway, but we try to make the sentences have a nice rhythm.
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Post by wetair » August 5th, 2010, 9:18 pm

That is the longest sentence I've ever seen.

And, no, I don't think I spend a lot of time on my sentence. At least, I don't spend hours and hours going over the same paragraph. Not continuous hours anyway.
Last edited by wetair on August 5th, 2010, 9:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by Heather B » August 5th, 2010, 9:30 pm

I spend a fair bit of time on sentence structure - I never get it right first go. I like everything to have a rhythm and if a paragraph messes up, I scrap it and start again. But I too, have no delusions about being the next Hemmingway. It's more of an obsessive compulsive tick.
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Post by Quill » August 5th, 2010, 9:32 pm

I try to make every sentence and every word count. Sometimes this entails trying several different word orders and combinations in a sentence, to achieve maximum effect. The beginning and ending words are the most important. My ultimate goal is always to have the prose transcend into music.

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Post by polymath » August 5th, 2010, 9:48 pm

The Hunt and the Hemingway samples demonstrate different approaches to stream of consciousness methods; Hunt's fluid and impressionistic in Faulkner's aesthetic, Hemingway's sparse and austere. Both in their ways close in on close narrative distance for reader rapport's sake.
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Post by cheekychook » August 5th, 2010, 10:28 pm

I fall somewhere between Hemingway and Hunt, both stylistically and alphabetically by last time (strange, but true).

Seriously, I vary my sentence structure depending on the mood of the scene, whose pov it is, etc. I don't usually start writing a scene until it's already pretty clear in my head, then I let the whole thing spill out, as is. When I go back to edit I inevitably have to take out the extra words (those of you familiar with my posts are, I'm certain, aware of my tendency to babble), and I shorten/break up the longer sentences (when I think shorter sentences better serve the scene or add clarity). I invariably edit down, because more than enough comes out in the first draft. I"m not one to entirely scrap a scene and rewrite it from scratch a million times. Generally I think my better crafted sentences are the ones that just come out on their own---it's the sentences I've overthought or reworked too many times that I'm not happy with---go figure.

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Post by sarahdee » August 5th, 2010, 11:40 pm

I usually get my story down, then go back and redraft each paragraph sentence by sentence to make sure it reads properly. I tend to have different styles of sentence for each character/scene.

Oh and for dialogue I always have the conversations out loud to make sure they work complete with gestures. I give it three months before I am locked away hehe

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Post by JayceeEA » August 6th, 2010, 9:02 am

I'm more of a verbose crafter by nature, but I'm learning each day that short precise sentences carry the biggest impact. Hence, I could feel the emotions from Hemmingway's "The river is there," more than the preceding long-winded sentence by Hunt. Short sentences allow the reader's mind to travel beyond the sentence, it gives space for a higher imagination (which is what we actually want our readers to have).

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Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » August 6th, 2010, 9:58 am

Okay, yeah, I'm a Sentence Junkie. I admit it. Though that doesn't translate into a slow first draft, necessarily. I'm confident in my ability to find the right words, the right flow, and simply go with that in the first draft. But I love to tinker.
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