Each Sentence Reflects 3 Choices

2 Min read

1 Essay

Toolbox

How to improve your sentences immediately

AVAILABLE IN PODCAST

Spotify

iTunes

Google Podcast

Each sentence reflects three choices.

  1. What to write about and what we want to accomplish by writing about it
  2. Which words to use
  3. What order to put them in

That’s it, according to Professor Brooks Landon, the author behind a course on building great sentences. He also calls the first choice a proposition, which is not to be confused with a come-on from Seventh Avenue, but a statement about reality that can be accepted or rejected. In the same vein, the sentence for the purpose of this letter is the basic building block of all writing. It is not a punishment decided in a court of law.

The simplicity of these choices is what is appealing. What we intend to say and what we accomplish may not be the same thing. That’s the genius of the second and third choices: just which words to use and what order to put them in. Do the words effectively support what it is we want to say, or the proposition(s) for that sentence?

Invisible God created the visible world.* In this example, Brooks show us six simple words in an order that puts forth three propositions. God created the world. God is invisible. The world is visible.

In Ann Patchett’s essay, How to Practice, she writes about getting rid of her possessions. Here are two short passages.

“I wonder if we could just pretend to move,” I said to Karl that night over dinner. “Would it be possible? Go through everything we own and then stay where we are?” (These Precious Days, p. 62)

The feeling that came to take its place was lightness. This was the practice: I was starting to get rid of my possessions, at least the useless ones, because possessions stood between me and death. (p. 69)

Read the sentences closely. OR, do a close reading. What are the propositions in each sentence?

Even in isolation without the context of the rest of the essay, the propositions she makes, her word choice and order, support the theme. They challenge her ideas about possessions and the weight of carrying, the final clause an ultimate and painful reality: possessions stood between her and death. She had just helped her childhood friend manage the hoard her father had collected in his life. Sitting around during the pandemic made Patchett consider all the junk in her own home.

Lightness. This is the final word of the first sentence in the second passage. I’ve been wondering about the stuff in my life too. Convinced as I was after reading this dialogue with Karl, I tried it out on my own husband. Could we pretend to move and purge, then just stay where we are?

Three choices we must make in every sentence: what proposition(s), what words, what order.

Do the words and order support the proposition(s) we want the sentence to make? If not, edit and revise. Start over.

*Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft by Professor Brooks Landon, The University of Iowa. One of the best courses and studies on writing at the sentence level I have come across.

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett, “How to Practice”

Port-Royal Grammar, source of the original statement about God and the world in French, an organization focused on the philosophy of language.

Mar 22, 2022

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

Stay Up to Date

Become a better reader and writer today and try the TreeHouseLetter for free. Always learning with a bit of fun.

Latest Posts

“Good Luck and Smooth Sailing” in the Year of the Cat

3 min read Lunar New Year Vietnamese Zodiac, Cat vs Rabbit Year 2023 Writing tip, lyrics, backstory on Al Stewart's hit song * AVAILABLE ON PODCAST on SPOTIFY * Chúc mừng năm mới 2023!! Happy Lunar New Year! * It's the Year of the Water Cat according to Vietnamese...

New Year, New Habits: THL on Instagram

2 min read Writing community Marketing platform 4 Instagram posts * It's a New Year with new habits: I am on Instagram! I know, it's hard to contain the excitement but please take a minute to check the posts below before you click over. They are drawn from...

How to Capture a Life in 400 Words

3 Min read The Obituary AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes * Writing an obiturary is a sobering task. I'm not sure if it is harder to write one for someone you know, because I haven't had to do that. My husband wrote his parents' obituaries and my father had written...

Punch In, Punch Out: the Profession and the Side Hustle

3 Min read 1 Book rec Writing Originality and Passion AVAILABLE ON PODCAST Spotify iTunes * So you want to write? Do you like words? I finished reading Murakami's book Novelist as a Vocation which was published in 2015 and translated to the English in 2022. As of the...

“Pithy and Practical” – Time in Memoir

4 Min Read Time as a Literary Element The Divided Self Christmas and the Solstice Readers Call to Action AVAILABLE IN PODCAST Spotify iTunes * Not to toot my own horn, but I'll let my cousin do so. She wrote in her Christmas card that she loved the TreeHouseLetter...

Which Part of Speech Makes Up Most of the English Language?

4 Min read Toolbox, Parts of Speech 1 Book rec, grammar guide Word nerd alert Ages 9 to 99 * Let's talk about the parts of speech. As for the seven words in that sentence, the first two-- let's talk--are a sort of conundrum. They're not spoken at all, though I am...

Giving Thanks for Dissent and Cookies

3 Min read True Story On Gratitude and Dissent 1 Cookbook rec AVAILABLE IN PODCAST SPOTIFY APPLE PODCASTS * Giving thanks this time of year is a practice in gratitude. Gratitude is vogue, hip, lit. It's handy and eternal, an ever-ready virtue, making an appearance at...

Topics

Become a better reader and writer today and try the TreeHouseLetter for free. Always learning with a bit of fun.