VIII: A FINAL WORD

A final word about sentences before you proceed: The writer without a sentence sense may not exist. Experienced writers, I am sure, feel their work progressing sentence by sentence; having begun a sentence, they contemplate its ending. The fine tuning of revision is a matter of working over the fine details of sentences. Sometimes a change in a sentence requires other changes several sentences back. Each individual sentence is only temporarily stable and fixed until the writer is satisfied with the entire unit. Sometimes the writer is so satisfied with one particular sentence that he hates to change it. Keeping it may mean discarding several others. But the writer's sentence sense is only one level of his awareness as he writes, the level of form, and only part of that. He is aware, if only subconsciously, of the tone of the piece, for example, the voice he has chosen to use, whether it is assertive, mocking, questioning, ironic, deadpan, or even the personal voice that he has been developing and that he wants readers to recognize as his own. He is aware of the countless aspects of the form and the content of what he is writing, and underlying everything else and supporting everything is his sentence sense. Compare it with the skill of the painter, who has countless concerns as he paints, but underlying all is his sense of contact with the surface that he is painting. Writing without a sentence sense may be like painting blind, or painting like an elephant holding a brush in his trunk.

Put this way, sentence sense may seem unobtainable. If you're blind, you're blind; if you're an elephant, you're an elephant. But writers develop their sentence sense. I suppose it comes with practice. Watch Itzhak Perlman play his violin and consider the practice that produced his bowing sense. But he had to practice the right things, as do the painter and the writer.

The fifty decent sentences before you are made of the right things. Focus your attention on each one until you grasp it as a unit, a form with a definite shape, a structure built on the rules of the
language, and with a meaning, an idea, a thought, that the writer with his sentence sense built to communicate with you. Granted, you may find the meaning puzzling until I provide some context on the next page. Yet, I believe you will perceive the sentenceness, the form, of each regardless of the content.

My comments on each of the sentences may not satisfy you in every way. Write your own commentary. More important, examine sentences you have written yourself, and write your own commentaries on them. I hope this exercise will help you practice the right things.

E-mail and comments to:   Arnold Nelson

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