What Can You Do with a Sentence?

Constructing a towering epic of literature *cough* depends on the sculpting of words.

Why does a later edit, where you attempt to finesse and polish a story, take so long? Because a sentence isn’t just a brick. In school, aged four and up, we start the process of building. Bricks are functional; they carry information:

‘The brick is red.’

Then we learn that, like basic Lego, it’s possible to do more, because words can be put together to make more complex shapes:

‘Jack ran up the hill. Jill chased after Jack.’

We have a fact, a consequence and interaction, even a little intent.

Then we find out that Lego’s themed—Space Lego, Robin Hood Lego, Barack Obama vs David Cameron Wrestling Lego. Each set is filled with special little bits that don’t fit if you try using them with others from a different set. They stick together, but they look odd.

‘Jack crushed the trigger of his blaster, but the energy-cell was fucked. The tentacle snaked around his throat—twice as thick as the one that ripped the bulkhead.

And suddenly, there were flowers and a light perfume—heady, dreamlike, softened images of comfort, his mother and home. Jill gave him a knowing look as she skipped ahead, spritzer in hand.  Almost giddy with confidence, she slid past him and the tentacle retreated before her.’

A sentence carries character, mood, movement, possess pace and a beat. The trick is know what you want it to achieve in the context of the book, scene, and the paragraph in which it sits. Fight scenes—sentences often fast, choppy, complement the action. (Write in bullet points—BADUM, CHING! ) Romantic scenes can be sensual, using softer phrasing and subtle rhythms to caress feeling from the reader with the flow of word-sound.

Just two examples. The joy of writing, and the challenge, is that there are infinite possibilities. Each possibility is nuanced so that it fits a little better than the others; this one best for that, that one for this. Add the funky twist that you may be trying to achieve more than one thing with a sentence and writing, and the editing that follows, becomes fun.

Out of the Darkness mixes genres and so mixes styles. It’s something that will, hopefully, differentiate it from the other Elite fiction. But if it’s not going to look like an Unholy Frank’n’furter-stein of a story, taking the time to craft the sentences—so they carry the right nuances yet still read easily—is essential.


Image Credit: ‘construction of new district’ © UnitedIllustrators – Fotolia.com


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2 Responses to What Can You Do with a Sentence?

  1. John Harper says:

    Aye, tis true, all of it. I totally know where you are coming from. With short stories (not so much AHTW) I had a tendecy to edit again and again, questioning word choices, going around in circles, making edits but I wonder making it any better? I think at some point you have to trust you gut.

    I trust your gut is looking after you.

    • TJames says:

      Thanks, John, my gut is fine (if maybe a little larger than it should be).

      I think it comes down to the type of story, characters, and scene you are trying to write. Short stories often focus on mood or character more than genre novels, and you have less words with which to convey meaning and make an impact. It’s not surprising that word choice proved tricky.

      I’m glad, like many ancient delvers into the mystic arts, you were able to find inspiration amongst intestines. Medical tip: as a fix, staples work better than tape.

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