Friday, January 25, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 8: Richard Bradley on Openers

Richard Bradley, a long-time friend and colleague, has thought a lot about killer opening sentences of novels. He shares them in a post, Opening Lines, in his entertaining and educational blog, A Rock in My Shoe

Richard mentions opening sentences from 11 famous novels that either turned him on or off with explanations of what makes them tick. You'll likely recall some of those openers, among them Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Lolita. Reading this piece inspired me to pick up One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, which also had me at hello. Check out Richard's own attention-grabbing opening sentence. And thank you, Rich, for recommending a decade ago Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which I could not put down.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 7: Harold Bloom on Shakespeare

"Nothing explains Shakespeare, or can explain him away." — Harold Bloom, Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? p. 99)

Now if ever a sentence is worth an entire essay, it is that one, and literary critic Harold Bloom does follow it with a treatise on The Bard of Avon's contributions to cultural history. 

What makes the sentence so pleasurable is its ambiguity. Are we about to read why nothing explains Shakespeare the man? Shakespeare the plays and poems? Shakespeare the legend? And what does Bloom mean by "explaining away" Shakespeare? Where Shakespeare stands in the pantheon of drama and poetry giants? How to position him in the history of English literature? Whether we should discount his status at the beginning and center of all English prose? Read the chapter "Cervantes and Shakespeare" to find out.

An important point to make here: While business and technical writers should avoid ambiguity in their messages, such is the stuff of great fiction, drama, and poetry. It is the mix of ambiguity and realism that inspires us readers to imagine ourselves as Don Quixote or Juliet Capulet as we experience the composer's words.

Read previous installments of "Splendid Sentences" on Words on the Line:

Friday, January 11, 2019

Splendid Sentences, Part 6: Carl Sagan on the Environment

Science writer and Cornell professor Carl Sagan was a rare media star from the scientific community. He was also a powerful writer, explaining to the general public highly complex ideas  about mathematics, technology, and the cosmos. In Sagan's essay "The Environment: Where Does Prudence Lie?', which appears in his 1997 book Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium, he writes this 43-word sentence:
Science and technology have saved billions of lives, improved the well-being of many more, bound up the planet in a slowly anastomosing unity—and at the same time changed the world so much that many people no longer feel at home in it. 
Besides delighting in Sagan's choice of anastomosing, I like the way he begins the sentence with the idea of people's lives being saved and ends it with their lives being detached: two contradictory results emerging from one cause.

Read previous installments of "Splendid Sentences" on Words on the Line:

Friday, January 04, 2019

14th Anniversary for WORDS ON THE LINE

Speaking of resolutions, this, the 825th post of this blog, celebrates the fourteenth anniversary of launching WORDS ON THE LINE. When I began this blog on January 4, 2005, I modestly resolved to post at least once a week about practical tips, useful resources, and inspirational ideas for developing, experienced, and reluctant writers at work, school, and home. This has been a promise kept, and I intend to run the string for a while longer. 

You can celebrate with me by browsing some of the pages here on topics like book reviews, famous writer viewpoints, email tipsactive and passive voice, parallel structure, punctuation, grammar, and much more.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

On New-Year Resolutions

I'm a big believer in making resolutions and, of course, sticking to them. My resolutions have been life-changing. I resolved on specific dates to accept a job offer that led me to a 19-year career and other opportunities, to have children, to buy a house, to publish my writing, to obtain a doctorate, to quit my secure job for a successful freelance career, to become a Christian, and to buy a second house, among many other transformative decisions. 

But I made none of these resolutions on January 1. They were on such random dates as April 16, July 28, August 2, September 25, and November 9. The point? I have three:

  1. Don't beat yourself up if you fail to keep a resolution. You're not a welsher or a loser. You're human.
  2. Don't wait until next New Year's Day to make the same resolution. If you break the resolution on January 6, then re-resolve on that same day. 
  3. Stop being a perfectionist. Big deal if you break the resolution on 2 of 365 days. You're still doing far better than if you hadn't resolved at all. Mastery will follow.

So resolve now, regardless of when you read this.