Not too long ago, I was correcting papers and wishing the writers would not be so inventive with their sentence structures and vocabulary.
I would see something with a phrase, a comma, or an unfamiliar word like ‘thalassemia’ and sigh.
I had an prickly sense that something was off but wasn’t strong enough on the structure to make the fix without some checking. Only after looking up the words and the grammatical structures, could I make the right corrections.
I thought to myself: “If I were writing, I would never have tried it this way.”
Then it occurred to me.
If I stick to only what I know, I won’t grow in style or ability. The writers making those mistakes did me a favor by making me stretch.
Pricilla Long in The Writer’s Portable Mentor also pushed me with the suggestion that I take a sentence from another writer and make it my own. To do this, I must carefully examine how the writer creates the sentence and then craft my own sentence in the same form.
I chose two lines from ‘Welding with Children’ by Tim Gautreaux.
“Tuesday was about typical. My four daughters, not a one of them married, you understand, brought over their kids, one each, and explained to my wife how much fun she was going to have looking after them again.”
The first structure is something I might write on any given day. It’s simple with a subject, verb, and adjective phrase.
The second sentence structure never would have come to me with its interruptions and commas sprinkled all over the place. It’s the kind of thing that gives a grammar teacher headaches, and, yet, it works so well to give voice to Gautreaux’s character and set the stage for his conflict.
Here is my version, using that same foundation, worked through with the meaning of another story:
Football night was the usual. My new friend Susie, never one to worry about style, you know, fiddled with her neon spirit hats, two of course, and listened while Josie the cheerleader was babbling at me once more.
It’s turtle-slow work, this sort of sentence skill building. I know, for example, that the last verb form I used is not quite the same as the original version, but I couldn’t quite make it work. And I sure wouldn’t want to craft like this while trying to make a word count.
Still, I do like it. I like the stretch from both proofing those papers and the sentence work. Language holds more twists and blind corners than I figure I’ll ever have time to explore.
That’s just the way I like it.
May you stretch in words and other ways-