How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fine Sentences

I love all aspects of writing and reading … using imagination, building new worlds, watching human drama, studying psychology, living beyond your experiences, learning new things. But what captivates me most of all about the written word is beautiful writing.

More often than not, what makes a book sink into me is powerful and beautiful writing, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. Words have a power to create images, and the stronger and more graceful the sentence, the clearer and more satisfying the image in my mind. If a book contains artistic writing – sharp, precise, clever, or descriptive – it will rank high in my regard, even if the plot or subject matter is not as exciting as others. The writing makes it compelling. That is why my favorite books are slower-paced, thoughtful classics that make me linger over and copy down phrases and sentences, even a single word now and then.

I love a word that defines something no other word can, words like atavistic, circumlocution, ironic, reciprocate, and xenophobe. I also love lyrical words that sound like poetry: gossamer, evanescent, felicity, mellifluous. Consistently use these types of words well, mix them with strong writing, and I’ll love your work. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate a fast-paced adventure … my reading has to range wide or else I feel dull … but the beautiful prose wins the day in my heart. But it can’t be fluff – it has to say something important, something that will make me think in a new way about what’s being described.

Mark Twain did this: “The Shadow approached Joan slowly; the extremity of it reached her, flowed over her, clothed her in its awful splendor. In that immortal light her face, only humanly beautiful before, became divine; flooded with that transforming glory her mean peasant garment was become like to the raiment of the sun-clothed children of God as we see them thronging the terraces of the Throne in our dreams and imaginings.” (Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, describing the scene where the angel visits Joan)

And L. M. Montgomery: “November – with its uncanny witchery in its changed trees. With murky red sunsets flaming in smoky crimson behind the westering hills. With dear days when the austere woods were beautiful and gracious in a dignified serenity of folded hands and closed eyes – days full of a fine, pale sunshine that sifted through the late, leafless gold of the juniper-trees and glimmered among the grey beeches, lighting up evergreen banks of moss and washing the colonnades of the pines. Days with a high-sprung sky of flawless turquoise. Days when an exquisite melancholy seemed to hang over the landscape and dream about the lake.” (The Blue Castle)

Calvin Miller: “I have no way to prove this, but I have the feeling that they live the longest who know why they are alive in the first place. We not only find out who we are when we move into the depths but we also find out what God has for us to do.    Then, glory of glories! We discover they are one and the same. What God has for us to do is who we are.” (Into the Depths of God)

Alain de Botton: “The present might be compared to a long-winded film from which memory and anticipation select photographic highlights. Of my nine-and-a-half-hour flight to the island, active memory retained only six or seven static images.” (The Art of Travel)

These fine sentences make me contemplate life. They fill thought, action, and image with meaning, and the more meaning you put into moments, the richer your life is. (Hence, be careful not to put too much meaning in the small things or life will be indigestible!)

Besides these older writers, I’ve read young authors, especially homeschool graduates, who are expressive and have great precision in word choice, description, and sentence structure, and I love it! They will only improve, so I can just imagine how good they’ll be after years and years of writing.

This is what I tell myself: Carefully-crafted sentences make writing shine. Have something to say and take pains to say it well, word by word. It will impact readers like nothing else will.

Tell me some authors that you think have a beautiful style of writing!


  1. I'm so glad I can comment here now! I've been reading your blog for awhile, but unable to comment without Google Plus.

    Anyway, these are incredible selections. I also love beautiful prose.

    Question—do you find it easier to construct dressy sentences as you go, moving very slowly, word by word, or do you mostly tackle that in a revision period that happens later on? :)

    1. I'm glad you can comment, too! I'm sorry that it took me so long to realize I should change my comments set-up. : /

      I'm glad you like the! They're so much like poetry, aren't they?

      My answer to your question: It depends on my mood. When I'm feeling patient and relaxed, I take the time as I go to craft a sentence just the way I want it. If I've got a rush of words coming, I just put them all down and come back later to "dress" up anything that needs it. : ) (This is not to say my writing is "all that" -- I can only try!)

      Thanks so much for commenting!!

  2. My greatest difficulty is that many modern readers struggle with the beautiful, classical way of crafting words. It can be hard to find that fine balance of reaching your readers through a style they can relate to and still have that classical touch. :)

    1. I know exactly what you mean! I struggle finding that balance in my writing, too. You have a classical way with words that I really appreciate, and it's not difficult to understand at all. : ) With many sentences that I write I have to pause and think, "Now, will that word or phrase go over well with readers?"
      But choosing just the right way to express yourself is so much fun!