View Full Version : Prose Styling and Study

Martin Smith
07-01-2009, 01:42 PM
Does anyone have any tips as to how you can write more, uh, creative sentences? I've brushed up on my syntax -- adverbials and nominative absolutes and such -- so I now have handy labels to apply to things, but the issue I'm having now is, how do I put those things together into great sentences? I realize there's got to be some element of study to all this, meaning I should read other writers and look at how they do things, how they construct their sentences -- only I'm not quite sure how to do that. I can't close-read everything, nor can I diagram it.

So here I am, wanting to become a better prose stylist but not knowing how. Help.

Lisa Cox
07-01-2009, 02:34 PM
The only advice I have is to read, read, read. All different genres, fiction and non-fiction. Your brain will absorb the language and style and over time you'll subconsciously develop your own style from the many you've read and loved.

There is no formula to prose style. There's no tried-and-tested method. It's all a matter of personal taste and your own ability to construct sentences in a way that pleases you.

But try to avoid mistaking 'creative sentences' with purple prose. Some people think a creative sentence must involve an abundance of descriptives, crutches such as adverbs and adjectives, etc. A little goes a long way.

(Of course, I'm guilty of all the bad habits writers pick up, so I'm in much the same boat, lol.)

07-01-2009, 03:11 PM
Take a book that you think is really well-written and type out a chapter or two of it. You'll start to pick up the rhythm of the sentences. You can also try taking a few paragraphs of the book and mimicking it exactly--if the author used a noun, you use a noun. If they use a verb, you use a verb.

It's a really challenging exercise, but it's very helpful. One of my creative writing profs had us do that when I was in college, and it changed the way I write. (Hopefully for the better!)

07-01-2009, 03:31 PM
I highly recommend Ursula Le Guin's Steering the Craft (http://www.powells.com/biblio/7-9780933377462-1) for this issue (and many subsets of it). I've been through it, doing the exercises, part-way a few times and all the way once, and every time I've seen my prose improve during and after the exercises. Dramatically. That's been true of the people I did them with too (and I've even sold two or three pieces that started as exercises from this book. Not from my first or second pass through, but since then).

For the record, it's aimed mostly at fiction writers but the exercises work for personal nonfiction too.

And I recommend it so often I'm going to have to start a disclaimer: I don't get kickbacks for this :D

07-01-2009, 03:44 PM
Echoing lisamarie84x.

Read, read, read. Don't try to be creative or you'll sound like a pretentious douchenozzle. Just write in your own voice. Don't try to be like anyone else. Don't try to be what you're not.

As you read more, your vocabulary and your skills will grow and your writing will naturally mature.

07-01-2009, 03:44 PM
Don't study.

William Haskins
07-01-2009, 03:45 PM
i would recommend a combination of the advice in posts 2 and 3 (which both contain great advice):

read widely and identify sentences that you feel are masterful work. but instead of relying solely on subconscious absorption, type out these sentences from a variety of authors and deliberately, consciously compare and contrast them, examining them not only for language, but also for rhythm, clarity and intensity.

once you know (or think you know) not only how they work, but why they work, you can incorporate it into your own writing.

Matera the Mad
07-02-2009, 03:04 AM
A great sentence is one that clearly expresses an idea.

07-02-2009, 03:10 AM
Get and read these books by Richard Lanahm:
Revising Prose
Analyzing Prose