Stanley Fish, in the first four chapters of his How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One (2011), points out that sentences are the building blocks of writing. He quotes Anthony Burgess's Enderby Outside:
...the words slide into the slots ordained by syntax, and glitter as with atmospheric dust with those impurities which we call meaning.
He continues by citing some memorable sentences from several sources: interviews of celebrities, a line from a character in a movie, a student essay, and so on. He says that these building blocks, these sentences:
promise nothing less than lessons and practice in the organization of the world. That is what language does: organize the world into manageable, and in some sense artificial, units that can then be inhabited and manipulated. If you can write a sentence in which actors, actions, and objects are related to one another in time, space, mood, desires, fears, causes, and effects, and if your specification of those relationships is delineated with a precision that communicates itself to your intended reader, you can, by extrapolation and expansion, write anything: a paragraph, an argument, an essay, a treatise, a novel.
Fish makes writing sentences sound easy. He tells us to remember two things:
The structure of logical relationships Fish refers to are the "structures of logic and rhetoric within which and by means of which meanings...are generated."
As Ben Yagoda asserts, in Chapter 2 of The Sound on the Page, the meaning of a sentence we want our readers to comprehend should be what we intentionally had in mind when crafting it. He harks back to Cicero's classification of styles, and states his preference for the middle or transparent style. He quotes Richard Lanham's definition of the middle style:
The middle style is the style you do not notice, the style that does not show, ideal transparency.... The "middleness" of the middle style will lie...in the expectedness of the style.
Most style manuals like Strunk and White's also favor the middle style, but do applaud the writer who displays an aptitude in using the grand/high style in the right way (that is, for the right subject matter and the desired effect). That's why it's important to keep Cicero's classification (see table below) in mind when writing.
And, of course, the best way to achieve the right style when writing sentences is by writing and reading texts in the various styles. As Steven Pinker says, in Chapter 1 of The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century:
...[the] starting point for becoming a good writer is to be a good reader. Writers acquire their technique by spotting, savoring, and reverse-engineering examples of good prose.
And that's what he does for the rest of that chapter: he reverse-engineers (finding out how good prose is achieved) several chosen passages. Let's try that out, and then some. ✍
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