Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sentence rhythm

I'm listening to a lecture by Prof. Brooks Landon on sentences (and you think I lead a boring life? No, it's one round of revelry after another!), and he mentions that often the most rhythmic sentences have: Main clause, longer modifier, shorter modifier (one word or so), and a long modifier, like:

Slowly she opened the door, uncertain if what waited within was a friend, an enemy, or worse yet, no one at all. (My example)

He said for some reason he couldn't explain this was the most seductive of sentence rhythms, and that the writers considered most melodic would use sentences like this frequently (not every sentence).

Anyway, look at your own work, or a book you love, and see if you can find a sentence like this (doesn't have to be exactly like this-- the point is to have one-word (or two- short, anyway) interspersed with longer modifiers, so you might start with one word, do that main clause, short, long, short. He said it's like a dot-dash of Morse code. Let's see what we come up with to prove or disprove him.

So let's also say-- if you find a sentence that sounds lovely, post that also if it DOESN'T fit his proposition.

I find I don't do that-- I go with just long modifiers. Hmm. I should try to revise some to single-word modifiers and see. Let me see what you all find.



Alice Gaines said...

First sentence of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart.

"Lest anyone should suppose I am a cuckoo’s child, got on the wrong side of the blanket by lusty peasant stock and sold into indenture in a short-fallen season, I may say that I am House-born and reared in the Night Court proper, for all the good it did me."

I've been following Brooks Landon's tapes, too. While this is a very long and very lovely sentence, I don't think this fits his model. My guess is he'd muck it up with a comma between "stock" and "sold" instead of the "and."

In any case, I'd give my right arm to be able to write like this, even if I had to get a special keyboard to type with my left arm only.

Edittorrent said...

Alice, there's such clarity and grace in your sentences that I think you can safely keep both your arms.

What I notice about Alicia's example is the triplet at the end. It's that damn rule of three again. Can't escape it.


Edittorrent said...

Alice, as I look at the chapter I just wrote, my pattern is much more like the one you quoted. Hmm. All the ones I remember him quoting were male authors... maybe we gals "hear" different?

green_knight said...

Where and how can one listen to this guy? Sounds like he's got a lot of interesting stuff to say. (Not that you don't.)

Riley Murphy said...

I am so sorry I missed this before. Can I just say (and trust me, you can question Theresa, about this - I'm not one to gush (ack!), right T? The thing is, that I've been a huge fan of your's for YEARS. (okay, on the down-low, because I don't want to date either one of us- hey, we’re still young) - I was receiving SPINNER'S DREAM by snail mail post in a double wrapped brown paper (okay, it wasn't wrapped - but it should have been :D)! You rock! And, T is right. Keep both your arms, girl! Damn, how did I miss this post? Alice, you're awesome!!!!!!!