By: Peter Giblett
One of the most challenging aspects of the English language is the construction and use of sentences. Many rules that we learned in school can act as a barrier to effective writing.
Combinations of Words?
Even though, there is a very large pool of words to choose from, many people find themselves staring at the BLANK PAGE wondering what on earth they should write. I am convinced that part of the challenge with writer's block and a large part of why the majority of the population dislike writing is the fact that forming a sentence is perceived as a great challenge. Conventional wisdom teaches us many things about building sentences, including:
- A sentence is a group of words that make sense when combined.
- They contain one or more clauses.
- Correct punctuation is a must.
- They must include a verb and a subject.
- They can contain adverbs, adjectives and objects
- They should be between 8 and 17 words in length.
- If it is longer than 25 or 30 words, punctuation is often needed to aid readability.
Of course, there are a large number of grammar rules with the English language, and they do exist for good reason. But there are few hard and fast rules when it comes to sentence building, however master crafters of sentences will always build their clauses to aid the flow of the story, regardless of the rules.
The Heart Of Conveying Ideas
One of the basic tools a child uses are bricks with letters painted on them. Imagine for one moment that instead of having letters, they had words painted on each side of them. Grabbing ten word-bricks and throwing them in the same way you would a set of dice, will create a word sequence but is unlikely to create a viable sentence.
From this proposition, it can be inferred that the order of the words does matter, and in fact it matters very much indeed.
Some people find it extremely challenging to write while others use words, play with them, make them flow or tell a story in an elegant and powerful way. This may explain why, as both are simply selecting words from the same tool-set, the English language, yet one finds sentence construction a chore and the other finds it a joy. They continue to rearrange the word dice, learn a new word or risk combinations to help them put together a story.
Anyone can learn to build powerful sentences that can be used to portray ideas, they simply need to try. While it is said that everyone has a story to tell (a novel sitting in their mind) they need to learn how to construct the sentences necessary to tell that story.
Here is a simple truth, life is complicated and has it many twists and turns. It is the same with sentences. Think of basic sentences as the child writing; more complex sentences reflect the adult life. So that some sentences are short and sweet, and others are long and complicated.
It is the intention of this series of articles to focus the mind on creating better and more powerful sentences.
Because sentence building is at the core of the writer's craft, there are many ways in which a writer can use them. As dictated by the needs of the work, the feelings, or the emotions, a sentence can expand or be very short indeed, and truth is each has their purpose.
Few people will ever conceive that a sentence of 958 words is necessary, but if constructed well a writer can convey a distinct message through those words. When long sentences are used they should keep the reader in mind; pausing when necessary through the use of commas, semicolons, or colons as such pauses may be used in order to emphasise something along the way. Lengthy is acceptable, boring is not, as you will lose the reader.
Because sentences are at the heart of conveying any idea, it is important that every writer learns to use powerful and meaningful sentences. Well-crafted sentences:
· Convey rhetoric and arguments
· Grow and contract
· Have a natural rhythm
· Build up cumulatively
· Explain and compare
· Are suspenseful
· Create your distinct prose style
Improve the Power of the Words You Use
Words are all tools to use in order to leverage the power of sentences and to help any writer improve the power of their words through the sentences they write.
Sentences should be shaped by their specific content and be driven by a purpose and because of this no amount of rules or limiting protocols can prepare us for the task ahead and the infinite ways in which sentences may be constructed to convey specific meaning. Don DeLillo nailed it on the head when talking about the tasks of a writer: "I construct sentences."
But what he does not mention is that in doing so they can convey complex ideas and philosophies with effective construction. My intention is to use a short series of articles to explore the art of the sentence and examine ways in which any writer can improve their skill. I am proud to say that is one way that I have improved my writing over time. Be sure to come back to the next column.
About the Author
Peter Giblett has a long background in communication and has been writing for most of his life, including many years spent writing business based reports. During the recession, everything changed, having been let go from an executive position he has changed much of his focus, and has spent more time writing. He has been an editor for an on-line magazine, is currently a moderator for Wikinut and is currently seeking paid writing/editing roles.
Word Dice: www.pixabay.com
Word cloud: Peter Giblett