How to write a sentence.
Writing is rarely easy. This is probably because writing has developed over countless centuries. During this time the technique of writing was evolved to meet the need for more accurate communications in language and writing between peoples. Writing was needed to record what was said or what wished to be said over distance and what was agreed.
Communications of all sorts are needed for people to simply survive. The development of the technique of language and writing was not the result of a desire to establish a literary tradition but to enable the transfer of information and knowledge with reliability simplicity accuracy and precision by leaders in rule trade and war. From this need to survive exchange the technique also accommodated the need for natural teachers of ideas in knowledge politics religion social arts and commerce whose job it was to pass on the culture of the older generation to its young.
To become a good writer it is not too far fetched to agree we should employ those good writing technique standards already in use by writing an exercise piece every day to get the feel of writing and learn to identify the common problems faced by every other writer.
Most people think unless a writer earns a million dollars a year the writer is no good. This is untrue. Whether a writer receives payment or not is more likely to be due to personality traits and cannot imply of itself good or bad quality in the author's ability to write. It is true incompetent writers will not be able to sell their work but these writers are by definition bad writers or not even writers.
Most problems encountered in writing arise from confused thinking - not from the lack of creative power. If we feel we have no creative power this is more likely to be the result of a block of some sort. By block is meant not writers' block we hear so much about but a more basic block ? a conviction we are not cut out for writing. It is not the absence of talent that blocks the writer but probably a misunderstanding of the exact nature of the parts forming a piece of writing.
This article is about getting rid of this misunderstanding.
Let us accept this very simple truth to clear the core of the problem.
Words build sentences. Sentences build paragraphs. Paragraphs build chapters. Chapters build books.
It follows if the writer can write a sentence then the writer can at least write a paragraph and so has the potential to write an article or even a book.
The sentence therefore is a basic building block of writing - from this everything or nothing else flows.
Each sentence contains a single idea and only one idea that can be expressed in words. The sentence has a structure. If the sentence does not have this structure the sentence is meaningless ? it cannot be understood because it contains an incomplete thought. Neither can it be edited until this structure is complete.
If the sentence is not properly constructed it cannot become part of a paragraph. No paragraph no article no chapter. No article no chapter - no book!
A sentence consists of three essential parts:
These three parts must be present if the sentence is to have meaning.
Subject: who or what the sentence is about.
Verb: what is said about the Subject.
Object: what is affected by what is said about the Subject.
Subject The cat The sentence is about - The cat.
Verb sat What is said about the cat is it - sat.
Object on the mat What is affected by the cat sat - on the mat.
How do we decide on the order in which the words are written/?
Consider the alternatives for an even simpler sentence:
1 Cats sleep often.
2 Cats often sleep
3 Sleep cats often.
4 Sleep often cats.
5 Often sleep cats.
6 Often cats sleep.
Of the six word order sentences only 1 ? 2 and 6 seem make sense.
1 Subject verb object.
2 Subject object verb. [This sentence appears to be a reply to a question.]
6 Object subject verb. [This sentence appears to be a reply to a question.]
Most sentences are more detailed than this otherwise each part is too vague.
Which cat is the one in the sentence? The black cat.
How did the cat sit? Very still.
Where was the mat? By the open door.
Now we get:
The black cat sat very still on the mat by the open door.
Note: this sentence is still divided into its three-part structure:
The black cat | sat very still | on the mat by the open door.
Further information is only added with the part of the sentence to which it refers orlimits. The end of each sentence has to be linked with the beginning of the following sentence. This establishes a flow or story line for the reader.
The black cat with the torn ear | sat still and listening | on the mat by the open door in the freezing draught.
The black cat with the torn ear sat still and listening on the mat by the open door in the freezing draught.
It can be seen from this example how a complex sentence can be constructed retaining its basic simple form. This provides an easy way to get all the facts we want to use into the sentence without worrying too much about the writing.
The next step is to construct the second or following sentence.
This will depend on the direction we intend the piece to take. In a work of fiction the next sentence is obviously what happens next to the Subject - the cat ? and should flow naturally from the content of the first sentence
The cat got up frightened.
Her black fur rose at a loud cry somewhere in the dark.
Group the sentences next - still listed one under the other - till those about the same specific part of the piece are together. Each group of related sentences form paragraphs.
The black cat with the torn ear sat still and listening on the mat by the open door in the freezing draught. The cat got up frightened. Her black fur rose at a loud cry somewhere in the dark.
We can edit these three lines as follows:
The black cat with the torn ear sat still listening on the mat by the open door in the freezing draught. The cat arched her back ready for any danger. Then her black fur spiked as she heard a long low moan of intense pain outside in the night.
Analyzing these three sentences we obtain the following structure:
The black cat with the torn ear sat still listening on the mat by the open door in the freezing draught.
The cat arched her back ready for any danger.
Then her black fur spiked as she heard a long low moan of intense pain outside in the night.
This is an example of how writing a simple three-sentence paragraph is actually written whether the writer is conscious of doing so or not. Having placed all the facts of the sentence in place we can check for ease of comprehension simplicity accuracy and precision.
Fortunately we have word processors now to make this task of editing easier than it used to be and sentences may be written as they come to mind in and out of context. We may then easily group the sentences for paragraph content and continuity by cut and paste until the paragraph is complete. The writer's original thought thread or idea has become clear in the final form of the paragraph.
Unclear thinking affects all writers to some degree. No writer is completely immune. Clear thought and expression is the essence of all the arts of which writing perhaps is the one key to understanding all of them.
Many writers strive to write high-density content even though their texts may already be crystal clear. Others aim to continually enrich and enhance their style. A few search endlessly for simplicity.
My very best wishes.
John Blenkin is a retired architect and is now a watercolor painter and article writer. His interests are wide covering both technical and philosophical subjects. He also writes online articles on the technique of watercolor painting.