PDA

View Full Version : Beautiful well-crafted sentences



Shadow_Ferret
02-11-2014, 10:40 PM
When you write, do you have a bookshelf (real or virtual) near at hand that, when you need inspiration because your own sentences seem dull or wooden, contains sentences so well-crafted and beautiful they are like an adrenaline rush of inspiration breathing life into your writing?

If so, who are those writers and what are the books, fiction or non-fiction, that contain these pearls of motivational beauty?

KTC
02-11-2014, 11:09 PM
My favourite sentence in all of literature! I get to quote it again. YAY!


Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor. ~ Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Actually, when I feel like a putz and I need an adrenalin rush, I read the WHOLE PARAGRAPH in which that sentence is anchored:


The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

Fucking caviar!!!!!

MookyMcD
02-11-2014, 11:09 PM
I don't really strive for that at all. The last thing I want is for a reader to stop being engaged with my story to admire how beautiful my sentence was. I've read some (many) books like you are describing, and enjoyed them, but that's just not my voice as a writer. If a reader could remember every detail of the story I told and not remember thing about how I wrote it, I'd be thrilled.

stormie
02-11-2014, 11:14 PM
I have The Crack-Up (edited by Edmund Wilson) which has a plethora of jotted-down descriptive sentences written by F.Scott Fitzgerald. It's dog-earred now. It also has his letters and longer notes.

Jamesaritchie
02-12-2014, 12:21 AM
I love beautiful writing to death, but not many writers are able to pull it off. Two writer who I believe do pull it off wonderfully are Ray Bradbury and Gordon MacQuarrie.

I suspect we each have our own idea of what beautiful writing is, but to me, it's writing that makes me see vividly, and makes me think. It usually uses simple language, but strings the words together in a memorable way, and takes sudden, unexpected left turns into truth.

There's one opening passage by MacQuarrie that I always keep close at hand.

There is something about rain ... A night in summer when the clouds can swell no more and shrink from threatening battlements to ragged shreds over Wisconsin, I often get up from my chair, go to the big closet and speculate over the implements of trout fishing there. Indeed, there is something about rain. Especially a warm rain, spilled over a city or a network of trout streams, It kindles a spark. It presses a button. It is an urgent message from afar to any seeker of the holy grails of angflingdom-- trout.

There is a mild August rain sluicing down to the thirsty earth. There are the castellated clouds, fresh from the western prairie, borne on the hot, dry land wind. And there is your man of the creel and the rod and the sodden waders going to the window to peer out and plumb the mysteries of the rain and wonder about tomorrow.

It must be that eons ago, when the rain splashed down over the front of a cave door, the muscle-bound troglodyte within went to the opening and stretched out his hand, palm upward. Perhaps he even stood there a bit, as perfectly sane men will sometimes do. Perhaps that old sprig of Adam, restless by his fire in the dry cave, felt the friendliness of the rain. Perhaps--no trouter will deny it--he felt the drops on his matted head and wondered about tomorrow.

The rain can beckon a man of the noisy city and draw him to the door or window. Its attraction is so much greater if falls at night, when it is a whispering mystic from afar that seems to say "Get ready, my friend. I am just brushing by to settle the dust and wash away today's dead spent wings."


To me, this is the kind of writing I wish to do.

Jamesaritchie
02-12-2014, 12:31 AM
I don't really strive for that at all. The last thing I want is for a reader to stop being engaged with my story to admire how beautiful my sentence was. I've read some (many) books like you are describing, and enjoyed them, but that's just not my voice as a writer. If a reader could remember every detail of the story I told and not remember thing about how I wrote it, I'd be thrilled.

The funny things is, I pretty much believe this, as well, with one difference. While the reader is reading, I want him to see the story, to forget there are even words on the page. I want the writing to be invisible.

After the story is read, however, I want the reader to remember not only the story, but how beautifully it was written.

It's a tough trick to master, but it is, I think, possible to make the writing invisible while the story is being read, but have it remembered as beautiful after the story is finished.

Ken
02-12-2014, 12:58 AM
While the reader is reading, I want him to see the story, to forget there are even words on the page. I want the writing to be invisible.

This really sums up good writing or beautifully crafted fiction. Not words that are pretty, but words that effectively get the meaning across to readers so they feel as if they are experiencing the stories themselves.

There isn't a book in front of them. There aren't any words. There's just a dragon named Smaug.

:chair

beckethm
02-12-2014, 01:21 AM
My favourite sentence in all of literature! I get to quote it again. YAY!

~ Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Actually, when I feel like a putz and I need an adrenalin rush, I read the WHOLE PARAGRAPH in which that sentence is anchored:



Fucking caviar!!!!!

KTC, I'll see your Fitzgerald and raise you a Hemingway.

Opening paragraph from A Farewell to Arms:



In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road was bare and white except for the leaves.


If it were a song I'd put it on repeat. The rhythm gets me every time.

mccardey
02-12-2014, 01:51 AM
I have a shelf of them. And I like this thread. :Sun:

Kylabelle
02-12-2014, 01:54 AM
Share some from your shelf?

I like this thread too.

JustSarah
02-12-2014, 02:04 AM
I guess I would say William Gibson and Robert K Lewis. What I look for in good writing a beige poetry, rather than purple prose. In such a way that the writing itself is to the point, but without flowery or ornate flourish.

Phaeal
02-12-2014, 02:36 AM
My current favorite is Hilary Mantel. Here, from Bring Up the Bodies, Thomas Cromwell imagines his dead wife and daughters as falcons:



These dead women, their bones long sunk in London clay, are now transmigrated. Weightless, they glide on the upper currents of the air. They pity no one. They answer to no one. Their lives are simple. When they look down they see nothing but their prey, and the borrowed plumes of the hunters: they see a flittering, flinching universe, a universe filled with their dinner.

Perks
02-12-2014, 02:45 AM
I always think of this from Gregory Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister:


“The children loved to run in the sheds where the new tulips were being cultivated. I remember seeing them one morning. They were playing a game of hide and chase. They were oblivious of any imps in the shadows, or hairy-chinned spiders in the rafters. The children tore up and down the long corridors made by rows of rough tables supporting great artificial fields of flower. The new plants were abundant, ranks of spears poking up through the soil. You could barely see the blond heads of the children in a blur as they raced along.

It would have made a nice painting, were someone to choose something as lowly as that to study. Another story, a story written in oils rather than one painted on porcelain. But to be most effective, the faces of the children would need to be painted in a blur, the way all children’s faces truly are. For they blur as they run; they blur as they grow and change so fast; and they blur to keep us from loving them too deeply, for their protection, and also for ours.”

lbender
02-12-2014, 02:52 AM
I don't look for specific sentences or paragraphs. I just reread one of the authors I love who tell a good story. That's what I want to do. If beautiful sentences happen to result, to me that's just a byproduct. As a matter of fact, some of the sentences I've written that I've loved the most have ended up on the 'cutting room floor'.

Liosse de Velishaf
02-12-2014, 02:53 AM
No specific books. But, for example, when I am stuck on a beginning/first page, I might grab a recent book I read to see how they did it and convince myself I'm just over-thinking things.

mccardey
02-12-2014, 03:25 AM
Share some from your shelf?

I like this thread too.

Oh, I beg your pardon. I forgot to. Here are some of my faves (http://www.librarything.com/catalog/mccardey/bookstobeburiedwith).

Giant Baby
02-12-2014, 07:27 AM
Vonnegut. The intro to Mother Night alone is a wonderland of chills, IMO, and it's not even my favorite of his books.


We didn’t get to see the fire storm. We were in a cool meat-locker under a slaughterhouse with our six guards and ranks and ranks of dressed cadavers of cattle, pigs, horses, and sheep. We heard the bombs walking around up there. Now and then there would be a gentle shower of calcimine. If we had gone above to take a look, we would have been turned into artifacts characteristic of fire storms: seeming pieces of charred firewood two or three feet long—ridiculously small human beings, or jumbo fried grasshoppers, if you will. That falls after:
This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don’t think it’s a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. And before this:

If I’d been born in Germany, I suppose I would have been a Nazi, bopping Jews and gypsies and Poles around, leaving boots sticking out of snowbanks, warming myself with my secretly virtuous insides.

There’s another clear moral to this tale, now that I think about it: When you’re dead you’re dead.

And yet another moral occurs to me now: Make love when you can. It’s good for you.
I apologize for Vonnegeeking, but the man could juxtapose.

So it goes.

jjdebenedictis
02-12-2014, 08:05 AM
At her best, Ursula K. LeGuin is the Hemingway of fantasy. Simple words with deft rhythms to paint a vivid picture.
I was in a parade. I walked just behind the gossiwors and just before the king. It was raining.

Rainclouds over dark towers, rain falling in deep streets, a dark storm-beaten city of stone, through which one vein of gold winds slowly. First come the merchants, potentates, and artists of the city Erhenrang, rank after rank, magnificently clothed, advancing through the rain as comfortably as fish through the sea.

-Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness

Natira
02-12-2014, 08:38 AM
There were two books that simply took my breath away; one I found when spending hours upon hours of my weekend in half price books trying to decide what to do with my birthday money. That's when I found The Habitation of the Blessed by Catherynne M. Valente.

The other time was when I was perusing my grandmother's shelf and found Henry Wadforth Longfellow's Evangeline. I fell in love with both of those books instantly... from the way the sentence was crafted to the way it rang with a strange sort of music that was not made of any notes.

blacbird
02-12-2014, 12:09 PM
"Beautiful, well-crafted sentences" are not effective out of context. You can drop a rare orchid into a potful of good New Orleans gumbo, and it won't work.

caw

mccardey
02-12-2014, 12:10 PM
"Beautiful, well-crafted sentences" are not effective out of context. You can drop a rare orchid into a potful of good New Orleans gumbo, and it won't work.

caw

I worry that one day you might become grumpy, bird...

blacbird
02-12-2014, 01:10 PM
I worry that one day you might become grumpy, bird...

Too late.

Let me put it another way: All your sentences should be beautiful and well-crafted. And in harmony with each other. The Vonnegut excerpts provided by Giant Baby are excellent examples.

caw

mccardey
02-12-2014, 01:15 PM
Too late.



Got such a crush on you :Hug2:

bearilou
02-12-2014, 06:21 PM
Snow, tenderly caught by eddying breezes, swirled and spun in to and out of bright, lustrous shapes that gleamed against the emerald-blazoned black drape of sky and sparkled there for a moment, hanging before settling gently to the soft, green-tufted plain with all the sickly sweetness of an over-written sentence.
--To Reign in Hell (http://www.amazon.com/Reign-Hell-Novel-Steven-Brust-ebook/dp/B003E74AL6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1392214634&sr=8-1&keywords=to+reign+in+hell) by Steven Brust

It was then that I fell in love with Steven Brust and decided I really needed to try my hand at writing in a more serious capacity.

stormie
02-12-2014, 06:40 PM
A work of fiction that I keep near my desk is Sea Glass by Anita Shreve. Not just a wonderful story, but beautifully written.


Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.
Love that sentence too!

Shadow_Ferret
02-12-2014, 07:11 PM
"Beautiful, well-crafted sentences" are not effective out of context. You can drop a rare orchid into a potful of good New Orleans gumbo, and it won't work.

caw
Passages, then, if that makes you feel less grumpy. Favorite passages -- made up of beautiful, well-crafted sentences. They come in all shapes and sizes, long and complex like Faulkner or unadorned and simple like Hemingway.

There are some opening sentences that pull you in immediately, without context, such as:

When Gregor awoke one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous insect. "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka.

or possibly:

The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Stew21
02-12-2014, 07:25 PM
The Sun Also Rises.

aus10phile
02-12-2014, 07:42 PM
I read poetry right before I'm going to start writing if my writing is starting to feel stale. It works amazingly well to put me in the right state of mind to generate fresher language.

But I'm not one of those "the writing should be invisible" people. I love a book with amazing use of language. I don't find it pulls me out of the story at all--it draws me in.

I don't mean flowery descriptions, though. I mean brilliant rhythm and pacing, unexpected word combinations that create immediate powerful impressions, specificity of language, and strong voice.

I love the beginning of The Bean Trees.

Jamesaritchie
02-12-2014, 07:42 PM
"Beautiful, well-crafted sentences" are not effective out of context. You can drop a rare orchid into a potful of good New Orleans gumbo, and it won't work.

caw

Have you ever tried it? That rare orchid just might be the tiny bit of exotic flavor that brings the gumbo to a whole new level.

Jamesaritchie
02-12-2014, 07:48 PM
This really sums up good writing or beautifully crafted fiction. Not words that are pretty, but words that effectively get the meaning across to readers so they feel as if they are experiencing the stories themselves.

There isn't a book in front of them. There aren't any words. There's just a dragon named Smaug.

:chair

Yes, a dragon named Smaug.

I tend to think of good writing as being a holograph projector. Like the image we see of Princess Leia we see R2-D2 project in Star Wars. The story rises up above the words in full 3-D, and we watch all the events transpire.

We only realize the quality of the writing itself after we watch the the story.

phantasy
02-13-2014, 05:36 AM
Lately Stephen King has been doing it for me:
"“the way doors looked when you were on a boat and the weather was a little heavy. Back and forth they went, right and left they went, tick and tock they went, until you started to feel a bit woozy in your head and stomach.”

Excerpt From: King, Stephen. “Everything's Eventual.”

Every time I read that sentence, I get nauseous. It's amazing. I like a good metaphor or I sentence I can really visualize.

I agree with blacbird above, passages out of context are usually just confusing to read.

Ken
02-13-2014, 04:56 PM
We only realize the quality of the writing itself after we watch the the story.

Some stories and novels almost seem to work themselves into the collective conscious. Like myths, passed down from one generation to the next.

With works of near quality, which are very good but maybe not in that classics category, there's sometimes that irony. The easy, effortless reading gives readers the impression the writing was too. So instead of praise, the reaction is almost dismissal. "I could do that. Great story, of course. But still the writing part itself is manageable!" And then they try and wind up chasing "holographs." << Good comparison. I sometimes imagine it as engulfing readers on all sides.

Shadow_Ferret
02-13-2014, 05:39 PM
In order to show that you can take a sentence out of context and still consider it beautiful, here are some lines from Raymond Chandler, who I think took the hard-boiled detective story beyond mere pulp. These show that sentences can be terse and concise and still paint a brilliant picture in the reader's mind and I don't believe any of them kick the reader out of the story.

"She ain’t here." The voice was as stiff as a breadstick.

His glass eye shone brightly up at me, and was by far the most lifelike thing about him.

Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.

The corridor which led to it had a smell of old carpet and furniture oil and the drab anonymity of a thousand shabby lives.

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.

The kid's face had as much expression as a cut of round steak and was about the same color.

I felt like an amputated leg.

What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill. You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now.


I don't really strive for that at all. The last thing I want is for a reader to stop being engaged with my story to admire how beautiful my sentence was. I've read some (many) books like you are describing, and enjoyed them, but that's just not my voice as a writer. If a reader could remember every detail of the story I told and not remember thing about how I wrote it, I'd be thrilled.

I'm curious, you don't use similes, metaphors, or any other comparative figure of speech that a reader might think, "That's a new way to think of that."?

aus10phile
02-13-2014, 07:08 PM
Love those examples, Shadow_Ferret!

MookyMcD
02-13-2014, 07:41 PM
I'm curious, you don't use similes, metaphors, or any other comparative figure of speech that a reader might think, "That's a new way to think of that."?

That's probably one of those areas where we're talking about a fine line. In fact, the one-line description I posted in the "walk-on, walk-off" characters thread is 100% simile. But my goal was to throw a complete image in the reader's mind in one sentence, not to pull the reader away from the story.

And I write humor, so I try very hard to keep from overriding the story with my own "cleverness." In that case, if a reader chuckles because of the image I created, I think I succeeded. If the reader thinks "gee, look how clever that funny line was," as complimentary as that may be, I think I failed.

Jamesaritchie
02-13-2014, 07:49 PM
Lately Stephen King has been doing it for me:
"“the way doors looked when you were on a boat and the weather was a little heavy. Back and forth they went, right and left they went, tick and tock they went, until you started to feel a bit woozy in your head and stomach.”

Excerpt From: King, Stephen. “Everything's Eventual.”

Every time I read that sentence, I get nauseous. It's amazing. I like a good metaphor or I sentence I can really visualize.

I agree with blacbird above, passages out of context are usually just confusing to read.

For a lot of years, I thought Stephen King was a great storyteller, but only so so as a writer. For me, the writing itself just sort of laid there.

A few years ago, ten or twelve, it seems to me his writing changed almost overnight, became more imaginative, better in every way. “Everything's Eventual” is filled with good writing.

Jamesaritchie
02-13-2014, 07:52 PM
In order to show that you can take a sentence out of context and still consider it beautiful, here are some lines from Raymond Chandler, who I think took the hard-boiled detective story beyond mere pulp. These show that sentences can be terse and concise and still paint a brilliant picture in the reader's mind and I don't believe any of them kick the reader out of the story.

"She ain’t here." The voice was as stiff as a breadstick.

His glass eye shone brightly up at me, and was by far the most lifelike thing about him.

Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.

The corridor which led to it had a smell of old carpet and furniture oil and the drab anonymity of a thousand shabby lives.

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.

The kid's face had as much expression as a cut of round steak and was about the same color.

I felt like an amputated leg.

What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill. You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now.



I'm curious, you don't use similes, metaphors, or any other comparative figure of speech that a reader might think, "That's a new way to think of that."?

I consider that very good writing, but I'm not sure I'd say any of it is beautiful. They are, I think, cases where what the writer says makes them work so well, rather than how he says it. It isn't the writing that's beautiful, it's the content, and this is how it should be.

Jamesaritchie
02-13-2014, 08:16 PM
And I write humor, so I try very hard to keep from overriding the story with my own "cleverness." In that case, if a reader chuckles because of the image I created, I think I succeeded. If the reader thinks "gee, look how clever that funny line was," as complimentary as that may be, I think I failed.

I remember one writer saying that, from a writer's standpoint, "Humor ain't funny. It's the most deadly serious form of writing there is."

I tend to believe this. Humor comes in several forms and several degrees. Some of it draws a smile, some a chuckle, some a belly life, but it all of it, I think, there's a danger of the writer getting in the way of the humor by drawing attention to himself, and away from the story.

I write a lot of humor, and I do want the reader to laugh and say, "No that's funny", but I want the comment to be about the situation, about what happens, not about how cleverly I write a line.

And in accordance with what that other writer said, if I'm laughing when I'm writing it, odds are no one else will think it's funny. I write humor head down, with a scowl on my face, not while laughing at my own lines.

Shadow_Ferret
02-14-2014, 12:09 AM
I wonder if we're talking about the same thing regarding beautiful sentences. If it were true that they draw attention to themselves and take the reader out of the story, then how has anyone ever finished a story by Faulkner, Hemingway, Tobias Wolfe, et al? Are these things we just notice as writers because we close read and readers don't?

phantasy
02-14-2014, 12:49 AM
For a lot of years, I thought Stephen King was a great storyteller, but only so so as a writer. For me, the writing itself just sort of laid there.

A few years ago, ten or twelve, it seems to me his writing changed almost overnight, became more imaginative, better in every way. “Everything's Eventual” is filled with good writing.

Glad you approve! :)
It's been a good book so far...I wish I could find some fantasy shorts stories this engaging and well-written.

Layla Nahar
02-14-2014, 01:29 AM
I wonder if we're talking about the same thing regarding beautiful sentences. If it were true that they draw attention to themselves and take the reader out of the story, then how has anyone ever finished a story by Faulkner, Hemingway, Tobias Wolfe, et al? Are these things we just notice as writers because we close read and readers don't?

There are a lot of such writers that I have a hard time reading because I find the prose distracting. I prefer a plain sentence that paints a picture for me and reads nicely aloud.

Kylabelle
02-14-2014, 01:52 AM
There are some "beautiful sentences" that I can encounter which do take me out of the story, and I often skip right over them. There are others, however, which deepen and enrich my experience of the story, adding a resonance that is almost physical and can take my breath. Those sentences take me further into where the author is going. Even if I stop reading to savor such a sentence or passage, I return to the narrative with heightened interest.

MookyMcD
02-14-2014, 02:36 AM
I wonder if we're talking about the same thing regarding beautiful sentences. If it were true that they draw attention to themselves and take the reader out of the story, then how has anyone ever finished a story by Faulkner, Hemingway, Tobias Wolfe, et al? Are these things we just notice as writers because we close read and readers don't?

I think it's ironic that your list started with Faulkner and Hemingway. This concept sits at the heart of the feud between the two. Faulkner wanted his prose to be admired, Hemingway wanted his story to be beautiful, and admirable words, in his opinion, detracted from that.

Shadow_Ferret
02-14-2014, 02:43 AM
I think it's ironic that your list started with Faulkner and Hemingway. This concept sits at the heart of the feud between the two. Faulkner wanted his prose to be admired, Hemingway wanted his story to be beautiful, and admirable words, in his opinion, detracted from that.

I know, and therein lies the irony: Hemingway is just as admired for the beauty of his straightforward A to B sentences as Faulkner is of his flowing prose.

jjdebenedictis
02-14-2014, 04:00 AM
Tastes vary. There's more than one way to write a great book because readers are receptive to more than one style, although not always on a individual basis.

MookyMcD
02-14-2014, 04:11 AM
Exactly. Writers, too. Hemingway would have sucked if someone forced him to write like Faulkner, and vice verse.

Jamesaritchie
02-14-2014, 07:23 PM
I wonder if we're talking about the same thing regarding beautiful sentences. If it were true that they draw attention to themselves and take the reader out of the story, then how has anyone ever finished a story by Faulkner, Hemingway, Tobias Wolfe, et al? Are these things we just notice as writers because we close read and readers don't?

We probably aren't talking about the same thing. I'm not even sure it's possible. We each have different taste in sentences.

It isn't a writer thing with me. I paid attention to such writing long before I even thought about writing anything.

The best way I can explain it is to say that, for me, a wonderful sentence is one that says something beautiful, not one that is beautiful. The sentence makes me see things, feel things, think things, in a new or better way.

Shadow_Ferret
02-14-2014, 07:55 PM
Maybe I asked for the wrong thing. I had assumed a great many of us had favorite writers whose voice spoke to us on a certain level, who we admired.

It never occurred to me the word "beauty" would have created such a sticking point, but I thought it was a slightly more interesting question than the oft-asked, "Who are your favorite writers?"

MookyMcD
02-14-2014, 09:03 PM
There's nothing wrong with the question. And a lot of people read for beauty in language. At times, that has been the prevailing focus of the market. It is still, generally, the point behind poetry.

I know people who detest Hemingway, and understand why. I love his writing. I also love Norman Maclean. There is a clarity to the two I thoroughly enjoy. It's just that neither man sought to write beautiful sentences. It could be a semantic difference or it could be a functional one, since many writers have sought to write beautiful sentences.

guttersquid
02-14-2014, 09:13 PM
"Beautiful, well-crafted sentences" are not effective out of context.


Does the diamond not shine as bright if you remove it from the ring?

MookyMcD
02-14-2014, 09:19 PM
Does the diamond not shine as bright if you remove it from the ring?

Give me an author who considers her entire narrative to be a setting to hold one beautiful sentence, and I'll give you an author I will never read a second time.

jjdebenedictis
02-14-2014, 10:04 PM
Does the diamond not shine as bright if you remove it from the ring?Not necessarily.

One of the most potent, meaningful sentences in The Old Man and the Sea was the line, "It was good."

Hemingway was a freakin' genius to impart so much meaning, via context, to such a bland sentence.

That line releases a lot of tension in the story, as the man had fought so hard to land a fish he had a desperate financial need to land, and he didn't know up until he tasted the fish's flesh whether it was going to be of good enough quality to sell. "It was good," is him realizing that yes, this fish might save him.

Jamesaritchie
02-14-2014, 10:27 PM
There's nothing wrong with the question. And a lot of people read for beauty in language. At times, that has been the prevailing focus of the market. It is still, generally, the point behind poetry.

I know people who detest Hemingway, and understand why. I love his writing. I also love Norman Maclean. There is a clarity to the two I thoroughly enjoy. It's just that neither man sought to write beautiful sentences. It could be a semantic difference or it could be a functional one, since many writers have sought to write beautiful sentences.

I suspect there's so much individual taste here that we'll never get past it. I read for story, but I also read for beauty of language. It is, I think, what makes a story rise above the swamp of sameness.

Now, I don't for a second believe that beauty of language is, or ever has been, the point behind poetry. The point behind poetry is the message and the emotion. I suspect this is true of every type or fiction, and in every era, as well.

I believe the focus of writing should be on story, character, and language.

First and foremost, every sentence needs to say something worth saying. Content matters more than anything else, but there's nothing wrong with trying to make every sentence beautiful, and I think good writers do just this. It's just that one writer's beauty is another writer's ugliness.

Don't you think Faulkner and Hemingway were both trying to write beautiful sentences?

Nick looked down into the clear, brown water, colored from the pebbly bottom, and watched the trout keeping themselves steady in the current with wavering fins. As he watched them they changed their positions again by quick angles, only to hold steady in the fast water again. Nick watched them a long time.

He watched them holding themselves with their noses into the current, many trout in deep, fast-moving water, slightly distorted as he watched far down through the glassy convex surface of the pool, its surface pushing and swelling smooth against the resistance of the log-driven piles of the bridge. At the bottom of the pool were the big trout. Nick did not see them at first. Then he saw them at the bottom of the pool, big trout looking to hold themselves on the gravel bottom in a varying mist of gravel and sand, raised in spurts by the current.

No long words there, but I have no doubt Hemingway was doing everything possible to make these sentences beautiful, and he succeeded. His idea of beauty simply differed from Faulkner's. One liked brunettes, and the other liked blondes.

Faulkner was college educated in the time of Joyce, and Hemingway had only a high school degree, and started his writing career by writing for newspapers. He followed his own influences, and used the vocabulary he knew best. But some of his senetnecs are every bit as beautiful as Faulkner's.

I believe good writing is invisible, but this does not mean it can be plain, flat, lack rhythm, flow, or pace. It can't be all short sentences, or passive. It needs active verbs, descriptive power, surprise twists and turns. If it lacks these things, it will be visible because it doesn't do the job. It's isn't just really bad writing that's visible, merely competent writing is also visible. Plainness can stand out just as much as purple.

Jamesaritchie
02-14-2014, 10:29 PM
Does the diamond not shine as bright if you remove it from the ring?

Sure. A beautiful, well-written sentence should be able to stand alone, and be recognized as such.

What you can't do with a standalone sentence is tell how well it fits in with the rest of the story, and that's important.

Jamesaritchie
02-14-2014, 10:30 PM
Not necessarily.

One of the most potent, meaningful sentences in The Old Man and the Sea was the line, "It was good."



Potent and meaningful, yes, but even in context, I doubt anyone would call it beautifully written.

guttersquid
02-14-2014, 10:31 PM
One of the most potent, meaningful sentences in The Old Man and the Sea was the line, "It was good."

Hemingway was a freakin' genius to impart so much meaning, via context, to such a bland sentence.



A valid point but a different one than mine. Continuing my diamond ring analogy, you are saying that cut glass (a bland sentence) can look like a diamond (a great sentence) in the right context (on a ring).

I am saying that a great sentence (a diamond) can remain a great sentence (shine bright) even out of context (without the ring).

MookyMcD
02-14-2014, 11:01 PM
James -- when it comes to thinking Hemingway's descriptions are beautiful, you're preaching to the choir. That is his goal. The language itself, however, was a tool he used to create the descriptions. The end he sought was the reader's experience in the world he created, not the reader's experience with the words he was using to create it.


I have tried to eliminate everything unnecessary to conveying experience to the reader so that after he or she has read something it will become a part of his or her experience and seem actually to have happened.

To Hemingway, a beauty was achieved in the mind of the reader, not on the page. He simply did not write sentences with the goal that the sentences themselves would be beautiful. To him, they were a means to an end, never an end in themselves.

sussu
02-14-2014, 11:15 PM
For me, the depth of the thought is more enduring than the beauty of a sentence.

A few diamond powders below.
Enjoy!

“The tree is more than first a seed, then a stem, then a living trunk, and then dead timber. The tree is a slow, enduring force straining to win the sky.”
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Wisdom of the Sands


“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Wisdom of the Sands

Haggis
02-14-2014, 11:53 PM
I fell in love with this one when I was still a child.


As I rapidly made the mesmeric passes, amid ejaculations of "dead! dead!" absolutely bursting from the tongue and not from the lips of the sufferer, his whole frame at once -- within the space of a single minute, or even less, shrunk -- crumbled -- absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome -- of detestable putridity.
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar - Poe

Kate Thornton
02-16-2014, 02:06 AM
William Gibson and James Lee Burke do it for me.

Jamesaritchie
02-16-2014, 02:59 AM
James -- when it comes to thinking Hemingway's descriptions are beautiful, you're preaching to the choir. That is his goal. The language itself, however, was a tool he used to create the descriptions. The end he sought was the reader's experience in the world he created, not the reader's experience with the words he was using to create it.



To Hemingway, a beauty was achieved in the mind of the reader, not on the page. He simply did not write sentences with the goal that the sentences themselves would be beautiful. To him, they were a means to an end, never an end in themselves.

Didn't he? I've read everything I can get my hands on about Hemingway. Not just his fiction, but his nonfiction, his letters, and what was written about him by other writers he knew. I can't find anywhere that he said he didn't try to write beautiful sentences. And he sure spent a lot of time listening to advice from writers who wrote sentences I find beautiful in every way.

But who said any writer, regardless of how they write, believes any sentence should be an end to itself? I doubt any writer thinks this. Trying to write beautiful, well-crafted sentences does not mean the writer thinks the sentences are the point, or that content is any less important.

They believe it's possible to do both, write beautifully, and give the reader great content. The best of them do exactly this. Really, what writers write only to see how beautiful they can make a sentence? They're all after content, be they short story writers, novelists, or poets.

MookyMcD
02-16-2014, 03:21 AM
Well, the statement that leaps to mind:
“My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.”

I do not believe seeing how beautiful he could make a sentence was even a factor. At least, he didn't bother mentioning it as his aim when writing.

eta -- having read every word of his you could get your hands on, I am interested in knowing if you can find a single sentence where he intimates or even hints that writing a beautiful sentence is, in itself, a worthwhile endeavor.

spoonflipper
02-18-2014, 10:03 AM
Just my two cents: I believe in clean writing and the occasional fantastic turn of phrase. Generally, I like the fewest words for the most meaning. I think beautiful writing is invisible and profound at the same time- you're sucked into the story and then later you look at a sentence or see the way some words are put together and think, hot damn.
Like reading Great Gatsby I wasn't sitting there distracted by the beauty of the sentences because the story is great but they stay with you at the same time and I don't think there's much writing more beautiful than what's in that book. As beautiful but not more.

On the other hand, full disclosure: I haven't gotten my head around Hemingway yet. But I'm open.

Aislinn
02-18-2014, 12:32 PM
Perhaps truest of all for a writer of fiction:
'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'
-Keats

(Which is to say that, in my opinion, if a person of some sensitivity writes a sentence that captures the truth as they see it, it will be beautiful, whether they intend it to be or not.)

chickenma
02-18-2014, 01:27 PM
Ah, the Bard. The more of everything else I read, the more I appreciate Shakespeare.

Layla Nahar
02-18-2014, 04:03 PM
Like reading Great Gatsby I wasn't sitting there distracted by the beauty of the sentences because the story is great but they stay with you at the same time and I don't think there's much writing more beautiful than what's in that book. As beautiful but not more.


Funny - I recently (re)read Gatsby. The style distracted me.

Ken
02-18-2014, 04:39 PM
Beautiful to me:


And you, Russia--aren't you racing headlong like the fastest troika imaginable? The road smokes under you, bridges rattle, and everything falls behind. A [passer-by stops and gapes at this miraculous vision. He wonders whether it wasn't a stroke of lightning; he ponders the meaning of this awe-inspiring speed and wonders what unknown force drives these mysterious steeds. O horses, horses! Are there cyclones concealed in your manes? Do your sensitive ears transmit fire to your very veins? No sooner do you hear the familiar song from above than the muscles of your chests of bronze become taut and hard, and barely touching the earth, you become streamlined, a flow of air, and the whole troika flies along inspired by God! -Gogol, "Dead Souls"

And quite possibly to no one else ;-)

Kylabelle
02-18-2014, 04:53 PM
Beautiful to me:



And quite possibly to no one else ;-)

To me also. Nice one, Ken.

"Oh horses, horses! Are there cyclones concealed in your manes?"

Very tasty. :D

benluby
02-18-2014, 06:02 PM
The best written stories aren't the ones that turn a sentence into a work of art, but the ones where the sentence is invisible behind a well crafted story, the one that lets me 'decorate' with minimal interference, and carries along the tale at a good pace.
If I am floored by the sentence you wrote, that tells me the story is not as impressive as it should be.
And yes, I've read some well written sentences in stories that were dull and lifeless.

ap123
02-18-2014, 06:19 PM
Now, I don't for a second believe that beauty of language is, or ever has been, the point behind poetry. The point behind poetry is the message and the emotion. I suspect this is true of every type or fiction, and in every era, as well.



To me, the emotional impact is what makes a sentence beautiful and well crafted. If there's no answering yes! or oh! in my gut, nothing to make me stop and reread, it isn't a beautiful sentence. Doesn't necessarily mean it's a negative, I don't notice every brick in order to appreciate a beautiful old building. But those decorative angels, lions, gargoyles, carvings? I notice them, and they add to the whole. :)

Shadow_Ferret
02-19-2014, 05:32 AM
The best written stories aren't the ones that turn a sentence into a work of art, but the ones where the sentence is invisible behind a well crafted story, the one that lets me 'decorate' with minimal interference, and carries along the tale at a good pace.
If I am floored by the sentence you wrote, that tells me the story is not as impressive as it should be.
And yes, I've read some well written sentences in stories that were dull and lifeless.

I don't mean "purple prose," to begin with, but as far as "best written stories," I think that is very subjective and personal. What some consider best written, others think is crap. Nearly every writer we list here, some will love their work and others will consider it trash.

So well-crafted sentence is probably subjective as well. Some might love poetic or rhythmic sentences. Or long, drawn out, sentences filled with semicolons and consisting of several topic changes. Others might like simplistic, short sentences. Clear, concise ones.

If you have a 100,000 word novel, that might average what? 15 or 20 thousand sentences? Most of those are probably invisible, but occasionally, one or more sentences will resonate with the reader -- whether it's the first one that drew them in, or the last one that shocked or simply satisfied them, or one somewhere in-between that sounded just right.

I know in rewrites I'll often find myself agonizing over how to phrase a sentence so it makes the point as succinctly as possible. It might become one of the invisible ones or it might resonate with someone.

I thought as writers that a discussion of sentences that have resonated with us might be interesting. I certainly didn't expect it to become controversial.

Maybe I'm just not communicating well enough.

Kylabelle
02-19-2014, 05:54 AM
I thought as writers that a discussion of sentences that have resonated with us might be interesting. I certainly didn't expect it to become controversial.

Maybe I'm just not communicating well enough.

For myself, I'm enjoying this thread immensely, and I also feel the discussion of sentences and passages that resonate and seem to lift out of the ordinary -- while also (please note) carrying the story forward without detracting from it -- is worthwhile and just delightful.

And I don't know that it's become controversial; I just suspect that some of us instinctively grasp the concept of appreciating a turn of phrase and savoring and absorbing it, while others have a different approach altogether to writing, such that this seems an exercise in something other than making writing work.

And that is definitely not an example of an inspiring sentence, hahahaha!

So, to contribute to the "here's a splendid sentence" aspect of the thread, rather than the "not the point" aspect, here's one I love, from a poem I read the other day.

The sentence comes at the end of a stanza and completes it beautifully and lifts the experience of it to another level. But, is it special, seen standing outside its context?

The sentence is "Scarcities abound."

:)

etherme
02-19-2014, 06:33 AM
Whenever I want to feel inspired, I pull out old (Stephen) King. I'll read a couple paragraphs, and then settle into my work. Works every time!

guttersquid
02-19-2014, 10:42 AM
Whenever I want to feel inspired, I pull out old (Stephen) King. I'll read a couple paragraphs, and then settle into my work. Works every time!

For me it's King or Elmore Leonard, two writers with very different styles, two writers who always make me think, Damn, I wish I could write like that.

Shadow_Ferret
03-27-2014, 09:20 PM
To add some fuel to this thread, this, recently from the guardian, http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2014/mar/27/what-are-the-great-sentences-in-genre-fiction?CMP=twt_fd&commentpage=1

MookyMcD
03-27-2014, 09:29 PM
I've read to kids during library hour for ten years, and one author who's always struck me is Maurice Sendak. Many of the sentences from his children's books could stand up against anything Jane Austin or James Joyce have to offer (on a sentence-by-sentence basis, anyway).

eta -- of course, that could just be my personal preference for simple, direct writing, too.

Kallithrix
03-29-2014, 02:15 AM
Just my two cents: I believe in clean writing and the occasional fantastic turn of phrase.

I like the odd nice turn of phrase too, but too many of these 'stop and take notice' sentences throw me out of the story. I don't like it when I'm more aware of the writing than the story, even if it's because the writing is amazing.

If I want to pause every few minutes to marvel at how profound and elegant a sentence is, I'll read something that's 2500 years old. And in Greek :D


Like reading Great Gatsby I wasn't sitting there distracted by the beauty of the sentences because the story is great but they stay with you at the same time and I don't think there's much writing more beautiful than what's in that book.

Ya see, I utterly choked on the writing in Gatsby. Every other paragraph I was tripping over some damn extended metaphor or poetic turn of phrase. It really hacked me off.

But I saw the recent film with Leonardo Di Caprio last weekend, and for the first time I appreciated how deeply moving the story is. I never got that from reading the book, because I fought my way through it tooth and nail (yes, it was a prescribed text for my English lit GSCE).

I have just downloaded it on kindle and want to go back and read it now to see if I like it any better, some 17 years later :)

For my own writing, I never strive for beautiful prose. I want my writing to be clear, concise, intelligent, and tell a good story. I do use description, simile, metaphor, but very sparingly. And when it comes to finding a line I am proud of... I really can't, because without the context of the previous sentence, and the next, and the next, it just doesn't come over as anything very special. But my agent is always saying how strong my writing is. I guess I can live with that :)