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George Orwell thought a good sentence means trimming as many words as possible, Virginia Woolf found power in verbs, and Baldwin desired 'a sentence as clean as a bone.'
We can learn from celebrated writers that a good sentence is plain, undecorated and visible. It gets its power from the tension between the ease of its phrasing and the surprise of its thought. Each added word reduces alternatives and narrows the reader's expectations. But up to the last word, the writer can throw a curveball.
A sentence is a living line of words with sense and sound. Beginner writers are often preoccupied with what they are trying to say and less about how that something looks and sounds. They focus on content and forget about form - how they say it.
A sentence must be felt by the reader. A feeling is something that grows and fades like any living thing. A sentence should unfold in space and time, not reveal itself at once.
Verbs go beyond the "formal railway line of sentence" to help people "feel or think or dream", wrote Virginia Woolf. During the second world war, she wrote this sentence in her diary: "Thinking is my fighting." Apart from the possessive pronoun, it consists of verbs or verb forms.
But like any skilled writer, Woolf varies sentence lengths. She alternates her long, elastic thought refrains with shorter fragments.
Contemporary writers leave space and silence between their sentences. It helps the reader see the full stop. Sentences are not chained together like in the past.
Sentences written a few hundred years ago often started with a whereof or a howsobeit, to continue an unfinished thought. They used many conjunctive adverbs - connecting words like moreover or indeed. Today's readers can link sentences without them.
Many contemporary writers treat sentences as separate thoughts, then joins them with strong comparisons or contrast. This makes the sentences at the start and end of paragraphs vital.
You can change the entire tone of a sentence by shifting it from the end of a paragraph to the start of a new paragraph, or vice versa.
If sentences have enough life and interest in them, they will hold the reader's attention as it moves along.
A good lesson for any writer is to make each sentence worth reading, leading the reader to the following sentence. Write not only in sentences but write with sentences.
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