ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

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Wednesday, 5 November 2014

IWSG post - The Ten Best Sentences in fiction according to the American Scholar.

Hi there!

Welcome to another month and another round of IWSG posts. As we dive into NaNo or dive into our writing for the month, I thought I'd post some inspiring sentences.


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I like to read A LOT and I like to consider the way some of the greats write in the hope that some of the magic will rub off on my writing. Here are some of the ten best sentences in fiction according to this article I came across online. 

I think these sentences are pretty awesome, but also demonstrate how times/tastes change. No doubt some of you won't like these examples. Flick through and let me know which one you like best...or perhaps post your favourite sentence from your current WIP or a much-loved book.

Here we go....

Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

10 best: Paris - James JoyceI go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.
—James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


This private estate was far enough away from the explosion so that its bamboos, pines, laurel, and maples were still alive, and the green place invited refugees—partly because they believed that if the Americans came back, they would bomb only buildings; partly because the foliage seemed a center of coolness and life, and the estate’s exquisitely precise rock gardens, with their quiet pools and arching bridges, were very Japanese, normal, secure; and also partly (according to some who were there) because of an irresistible, atavistic urge to hide under leaves.
—John Hersey, Hiroshima

It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.
—Toni Morrison, Sula

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?
—Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

It was the United States of America in the cold late spring of 1967, and the market was steady and the G.N.P. high and a great many articulate people seemed to have a sense of high social purpose and it might have been a spring of brave hopes and national promise, but it was not, and more and more people had the uneasy apprehension that it was not.
—Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

Image result for image of ernest hemingwayAnger was washed away in the river along with any obligation.
—Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms



There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.
—Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

In many ways he was like America itself, big and strong, full of good intentions, a roll of fat jiggling at his belly, slow of foot but always plodding along, always there when you needed him, a believer in the virtues of simplicity and directness and hard labor.
—Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

There is nothing more atrociously cruel than an adored child.
—Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

And a bonus:
Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.
—Truman Capote, In Cold Blood

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  • Do you have a favourite sentence from the above list?
  • What is your favourite sentence in your WIP or another book?






70 comments:

  1. I like Toni Morrison's line. Short and to the point. And proof it doesn't take a lot of words to convey something well.

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    1. That's the truth Alex. My choice is Ernest Hemingway for the same reason.

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  2. Anger was a good one. Didn't drag it out like some of the others.

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  3. I recently read Capote's In Cold Blood, and he had a line in there about the Kansas wheat fields that just blew me away, it was so keenly accurate. I had to read that sentence about five times. If I had the book at hand, I'd post it. It was beautiful. :)

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    1. Makes me want to find that book and find that line. I love it when you have to read over and over because something is just so beautifully written. Tim Winton has that effect on me. Thanks L.G.

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  4. Recognised the Jane Austen quote - Mr. Bennett talking to Elizabeth.

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    1. Yes, Jo. I could think of better Jane Austen lines, but I'll go with that one. She has too many to count I think.

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  5. wow, I love the Toni Morrison one. lol, I just noticed Alex mentioned the same one. Great minds ;)

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    1. Toni says so much so beautifully in those few words. And so much emotion! Two Toni. Two Hemingway...

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  6. Hi Denise - I choose Dickens ... but I definitely and obviously need to read more ... I keep finding sentences, phrases that resonate so well ... I change up my thoughts ... I'd love to have more in-depth knowledge .. one day perhaps ..

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. Dickens is amazing with his descriptions. If only we had more time to absorb great literature. :)

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  7. I really enjoyed the quotes. One of my favorite is L. M. Montgomery. I am not sure, which book this one is from, but I love her descriptions the way she makes the world itself live in her writing, along with her characters.

    “Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps . . . perhaps . . . love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.”
    ― L.M. Montgomery

    Juneta at Writer's Gambit

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    1. That is absolutely beautiful Juneta. I must find her books. What a description. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. I wish I was a collector of awesome sentences, but I'm not. My brain doesn't work that way. I was kind of shocked last night though. My hubby and I started a new Dean Koontz book, and I LOVE Dean Koontz. He's got so much experience and awesomeness behind his work. Still, as I read along I found myself thinking, "Man is this long winded. Cut back on some of the pretty-pretty and get to the story, eh?" Then I laughed at myself because never in a hundred years would I have expected that thought to be tied to one of my favorite authors. =)

    Unleashing the Dreamworld

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    1. Poor Dean Koontz. And he sweats over every sentence too!

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  9. I like the line from Hemingway. He was so precise. I was struck by how long some of those sentences are. I doubt a modern reader would like the slow style. Tastes have changed. We demand action and movement at all times and have lost patience with prose.

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    1. I'll never lose patience with beautiful prose, but, yes, tastes have changed.

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  10. Here's one of my favorites. The first line from Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

    "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

    The entire first paragraph really sets the dark tone for the book and I love it!

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    1. That is one of the best first lines ever! And she just keeps on going...

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  11. Hemingway knew how to write tight. Thanks, Charity (above) for reminding me of my very fav 1st line from Rebecca. Great post, Denise.

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    1. Hemingway sweated over each sentence and it shows. Love his writing.

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  12. The Capote and Hemingway were my favorites, and not just because the were short! They painted a picture. They describe the journey, a path, the movement and the shortcomings, in a few short words.
    Play off the Page

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    1. I'm with you there Mary. All are wonderful but Capote and Hemingway certainly are outstanding.

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  13. I like shorter sentences usually, but I do like the picture Tim O'Brien paints.

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    1. Yes, he is very clever and descriptive.

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  14. Those are all great sentences. I'm not sure if I have a favorite sentence in my current WIP as I haven't gotten that far on it yet. :)

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    1. A shame no one is sharing their great sentences. I'll have to collate some for another post.

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  15. Hi Denise.
    Very interesting topic.
    I love a mixture of long and short.
    Short sentences work well, especially with micro-fiction.
    However, I also love the pacing of a well-constructed long sentence, which can be elegant and really effective, without necessarily being too heavy or "flowery"…
    As language evolves, I wonder what the future holds for the sentence. If we're already down to sms style, then what next? Maybe a reversal? Back to the days of Jane-Austen-styled sentences?
    From the collection above, the Tony Morrison sentence really captured my imagination...resonated...

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    1. Just saw on a program last night that young people are communicating far more than any previous generation. Hope it never becomes simply sms style...

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  16. I love the Toni Morrison sentence, because it made me feel the emotions it was conveying, like verbal word art.
    And...I couldn't possibly choose! I love so many different kinds of prose for so many different reasons - not including the guilty pleasures list. :)

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  17. I love the Toni Morrison one, it gets the idea across quite succinctly. So many of these are so verbose, the way popular writing used to be. It's interesting to see how much more brief we are today.

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    1. Toni Morrison seems popular. She certainly packs a punch with whatever she has to say.

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  18. I enjoyed Tim O'Brien's description of America. Talk about some long, long sentences. What editor would let one of us get away with that.

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    1. You're right Susan. they probably wouldn't and that's not necessarily a good thing,

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  19. I always loved this from the Hobbit:

    "He thought of himself frying bacon and eggs in his own kitchen at home - for he could feel inside that it was high time for some meal or other; but that only made him miserabler."

    and I also loved in Terry Brooks's fantasy epic series, Shannara, when he mentioned "Things of tooth and claw, of red maw and black eye, of fears real and imagined..." ;)

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    1. Love the Hobbit quote. Same amazing lines in LOTR series. And Terry Brooks...wow.

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  20. Those lines are so good. I actually, on the longer ones, have to seriously slow down to indulge in them and understand them just so. you can't speed those ones :)

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    1. Ha, is life too fast to read slow? I wish it wasn't.

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  21. so many good ones it's hard to pic a fave! A line from my first novel that makes me laugh ... 'Their teeth smashed as he plunged his tongue in her mouth. '

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    1. Now that's amazing. Romance writing leads to a whole array of fabulous sentences. Thanks for sharing yours!

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  22. I wish America was still like the Tim O’Brien quote.

    Probably because I read it so many times, lines from Watership Down always come to me. "All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand Enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you."

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    1. Don't we all long for a better time? I love your sentences from Watership Down...and thanks for reminding me of it.

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  23. This is such a subjective topic. Sometimes sentences from works that are not not generally seen as 'literature' can be really memorable.
    This is from Raymond Chandlers Farewell My Lovely:
    "She was a blonde, a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window." Economical yet saying so much!
    CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

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    1. That Raymond Chandler knew how to put a sentence together. Thanks for sharing that one.

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  24. Austen's and Hemingway's would still be liked by most even today. The others are too long. We are a culture of diminished attention spans these days: the Twitterites!

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    1. Yes, some may still be relished, but I suspect Fitzgerald would be tossed aside, yet he had such a command of words.

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  25. Toni Morrison, Hemingway, Tim O'Brien. I like them because they give a hint to the characters or setting, and have great voice.

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    1. Yes, D, the voice resonates. Such a lot of passion in few words.

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  26. The Hemingway quote appeals to me.

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    1. Certainly my favorite Jo, but there's lots of good ones...

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  27. I love the Toni Morrison line the most!!!

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  28. Great choices, but I have a feeling if any of us wrote some of these more classic sentences today, we'd be rejected for being overly dramatic and too cheesy.

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  29. These sentences make me want to write more. Thanks.

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    1. That's a great effect, Vanessa. Happy writing!

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  30. Replies
    1. Both very popular! Brief, but loaded.

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  31. I'd completely forgot about the Toni Morrison's one. I no longer have favourites of anything, but one passage has stuck with me for many years (I'm cheating; it's not a sentence, it's a whole page). It's the opening of Invisible Man by Ralp Ellison.

    Great post.

    Greetings from London.

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    1. I haven't read that one, but it sounds amazing. I love books where you can wallow in a whole page/chapter/book.

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  32. Fantastic post. I'm always amazed at the long sentences that flow so very well. Me, I'm a short sentence woman.

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    1. As are most modern writers. Times have changed.

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  33. These are all great sentences and for some reason I had forgotten how loooong some of them are. Tastes have definitely changed but I will never tire of reading the classics.
    doreenmcgettigan.com

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  34. And I thought I was long winded! LOL
    Love these, priceless!

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  35. "Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again."

    "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realised it when they were caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were."

    Additionally.

    All of the ones in the post are great, but Jane, Ernest and Vladimir are my absolute tops. I like things crisp, though I am not on Twitter. :) Just here to say hi and wish you a good week with Nano.

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  36. I liked them all, but Toni Morrison's really hit home. I love the simplicity of such a powerful punch made up of words.

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  37. They all make one ponder on the deeper meaning. Just yesterday I came across a piece (below) and I'm still pondering on its depth; I even had to look up the myth about Saturn, a Roman / Greek god.

    "When the tyrant gods are overthrown, when individuals walk out from under the shadow of Saturn, when they reject collective expectations and seek their own path, then justice returns." From Under Saturn's Shadow: The Wounding and Healing Of Men
    Jungian psychologist, James Hollis

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