Friday, May 28, 2021

An Entire Lesson In One Sentence


Every sentence in a great novel is a work of art. Context; delivery; tone; word-choice; grammar; maybe even a bit of metaphor or allegory. A simile. I write this blog as though I were under a strict time limit, whereas a great writer crafts every sentence as though she were cutting a famous diamond. A diamond that would be given a name and treasured for all of history. This is the sentence that I will be remembered for! The beauty of a great sentence can stun a sensitive reader the way a masterpiece by a great artist can stun a viewer. Each thing proves, in its way, the potential of humanity. They broadcast to the world: this is the greatness that lives in mankind. It doesn't always work out that way. There are examples in literature and the visual arts that stun for all of the wrong reasons.

Without placing it at any particular point on the value scale, I offer the following sentence as a lesson for the would be writers out there:

“Reinhardt shuddered awake, again, clawing himself up from that dream, that nightmare of a winter field, the indolent drift of smoke and mist along the hummocked ground, the staccato line of the condemned and the children's screams.” *

This is the first sentence of a novel that is available on Amazon. It's not a vanity project like my own Amazon offering. This book was actually published by Berkley, and has been sold through Penguin Group (USA). I am in no position to evaluate greatness in other people's English sentences, but I do know a good one from a bad one. I am simply a humble reader, and writer, and sometime editor. If my own sentences read smoothly and deliver a clear meaning, I am content. I try not to be judgmental, unless I am being paid to edit something. As a reader, I tend to be forgiving if the writer is a real historian and the book is non-fiction. Reading novels and other fiction, however, I can be quite demanding. This is probably a fault in me.

But sentences, and in particular the above highlighted sentence. Not all are worthy of study. This example, however, should be closely examined by all beginning writers. My lawyer has advised me that I am not to say one more word about this sentence. I am a lawyer, and I am therefore in charge of my own risk-management division. We live in a litigious society, and people get sued for the damnedest things. I generally listen to the lawyer in me, so that will be my final word on the subject.

*From “The Man from Berlin,” by Luke McCallin

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