Beyond Grade-School Sentences: Adding Depth and Texture to Writing

4 Min read

Depth and texture in writing

Cumulative and suspensive sentences

The Music in Prose: Ernest Hemingway, Vivian Gornick, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Crayon packs and colors

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Grade-school boxes with classic 8, 16, and 48 count

The four basic sentence constructions are simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex.* Like the 8-pack of crayons, this is the first order of business, tools we learn and use as children. Let’s face it: many never learn more than these, yet writers know how to use loose and periodic sentences. And, as readers we read them all the time. I prefer the names cumulative and suspensive.

The cumulative sentence has a main clause which grows, with free modifiers, adding more detail, generating rhetoric after the main clause, as you would speak, providing levels of meaning, such as this sentence, creating a richness and depth, a texture to the writing. Done well, the sentence has a cadence that is easy to follow, a rhythm that does not disrupt the flow.

Here’s Hemingway, a master of the sentence.

George was coming down in telemark position, kneeling; one leg forward and bent, the other trailing; his sticks hanging like some insect’s thin legs, kicking up puffs of snow as they touched the surface and finally the whole kneeling, trailing figure coming around in a beautiful right curve, crouching, the legs shot forward and back, the body leaning out against the swing, the sticks accenting the curve like points of light, all in a wild cloud of snow.

Main clause then modifying phrases, a long sentence.

This is Vivan Gornick writing about Beryl Markham’s West with the Night. I included the sentence fragment after the cumulative sentence because it provides variety and punctures the rhythm with a punch, hinting of what’s to come.

Her father had a gift for handling animals that he passed on to his daughter, a srong-willed, long-legged wild child always more at home with horses than with people. Horses, and later airplanes and danger.

Main clause then modifying phrases. This is a shorter cumulative sentence, followed by a sentence fragment.

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With phrases first, modifiers preceding, the suspensive sentence builds and puts the main clause last. The suspensive sentence is used more in literary writing and should be used sparingly. It is done with great effect, because the reader follows the momentum, trusting the writer to deliver the main clause or idea, to relieve the suspense. It is not how we naturally speak.

Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming book.

How to wear eighteenth-century crossed belts with brass plate and cartridge box, to straighten the gig line, to spit-shine low quarters, to conduct the manual of arms with an M-14 ceremonial rifle, to dress right in formation, to pack a rucksack, to don a gas mask, to breathe in CS gas, to execute the side-straddle-hop and the pushup and the pullup and the litter carry, to call in a 9-Line Medevac request, to arm and throw a grenade, to bivouac, to secure the perimeter—these are basic cadet and soldier tasks.

Modifying phrases then main clause, a long sentence, a curated list to depict the regimen of Army life.

Ralph Waldo Emerson writes this suspensive sentence in his essay, Self-Reliance.

To believe your own thought, to believe that is what is true for you is true for all men, that is genius.

Modifying pharases then main clause. This is short and suspenseful, with the most important word last.

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The 8-pack of crayons is foundational with classic colors such as red, orange, yellow. We grow as artists when we realize there are more colors in the 16-pack (blue green, violet, carnation pink), the 48-pack and that behemoth, the 64-pack. Apricot, cadet blue, magenta. Remember it, with the sharpener in the box?

Add more colors to your writing toolbox. Use variety in sentence construction and length to build meaning. Study writing you like. Then just do it–write cumulative and suspensive sentences.

There’s no going back to ROYGBIV** after you’ve seen screamin’ green nails, or a mauvelous sunset and bluetiful skies.***

Crayola 64-count turned 64 years old in 2022

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FOOTNOTES

* Examples of four types of sentence structures. Simple: I see you. Compound: I see you and you see me. Complex: When I came home, my dogs rushed the door. Compound-complex: Sue likes to write and Sally likes to read, but only what Sue tells her to.

*Crayola classic 8-count pack colors: Yellow, Blue, Green, Brown, Red, Black, Orange and Violet.

**ROYGBIV is the acronym for the series of hues making up the colors of the rainbow. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.

***Crayola 64-count pack introduced in 1958, turned 64 in 2022 with limited edition, 64 at 64 (today): Each set of 64 includes Red, Orange, Yellow, Blue, Green, Violet, Brown, Black, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet, Carnation Pink, Red-Orange, Red-Violet, White, Yellow-Green, Yellow-Orange, Scarlet, Green-Yellow, Cerulean, Bluetiful, Indigo, Violet-Red, Apricot, Gray, Purple Moutains Magesty, Cornflower, Sea Green, Granny Smith Apple, Olive Green, Spring Green, Lavender, Mauvelous, Goldenrod, Salmon, Sepia, Tumbleweed, Macaroni and Cheese, Burnt Sienna, Mahogany, Chestnut, Peach, Sky Blue, Cadet Blue, Melon, Tan, Wisteria, Timberwolf, Magenta, Bittersweet, Forest Green, Periwinkle, Wild Strawberry, Burnt Orange, Robin’s Egg Blue, Orichid, Tickle Me Pink, Gold, Turquoise Blue, Plum, Brick Red, Asperagus, Pacific Blue, and Silver. The Classpack also includes two classroom sharpeners. Source link, Blick class pack.

*Granddaddy 120-count from the Crayola site when asked the names of the colors: Answer: You have come to the right crayon. The colors currently included in the 120-count pack of Crayola Crayons are: almond, antique brass, apricot, aquamarine, asparagus, atomic tangerine, banana mania, beaver, bittersweet, black, blue, bluetiful, blue bell, blue green, blue violet, blush, brick red, brown, burnt orange, burnt, sienna, cadet blue, canary, caribbean green, carnation pink, cerise, cerulean, cerulean, chestnut, copper, cornflower, cotton candy, denim (yours truly!), desert sand, eggplant, electric lime, fern, forest green, fuchsia, fuzzy wuzzy brown, gold, goldenrod, granny smith apple, gray, green, green yellow, hot magenta, inchworm, indigo, jazzberry jam, jungle green, laser lemon, lavender, macaroni and cheese, magenta, mahogany, manatee, mango tango, maroon, mauvelous, melon, midnight blue, mountain meadow, navy blue, neon carrot, olive green, orange, orchid, outer space, outrageous orange, pacific blue, peach, periwinkle, piggy pink, pine green, pink flamingo, pink sherbert, plum, purple heart, purple mountains’ majesty, purple pizzazz, radical red, raw sienna, razzmatazz, razzle dazzle rose, red, red orange, red violet, robin’s egg blue, royal purple, salmon, scarlet, screamin’ green, sea green, sepia, shadow, shamrock, shocking pink, silver, sky blue, spring green, sunglow, sunset orange, tan, tickle me pink, timberwolf, tropical rain forest, tumbleweed, turquoise blue, unmellow yellow, violet (purple), violet red, vivid tangerine, vivid violet, white, wild blue yonder, wild strawberry, wild watermelon, wisteria, yellow green, yellow orange, and yellow. Hope this helps! “Denny” Denim Blue Crayon 7 days ago

Aug 21, 2023

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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.

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