Mary Duffy’s Sentence
Write American English Prose with Style!
For college students, high school students, teachers, attorneys, policemen, paralegals, doctors, nurses, dentists, scientists, and even professional writers
TABLE OF CONTENTS
This guide attempts to set a fresh approach to the writing of riveting prose; an approach that isn’t found in any of the traditional books published by theorists, successful and unsuccessful writers, as well as writers’ workshops, and writers’ conferences.
So, don’t—for a second—expect a “How to” traditional guide to writing American English prose.
You won’t find the quaint concepts and convenient classifications that theorists have compiled over the years: voice, dialogue, setting, theme, genre, plot, climax, dénouement, character, motivation, flashbacks, point of view, essays, précis (summaries), etc.
Nor will you find grammar and syntax rules or a treatise in style.
Instead you will find in this book a practical discussion of topics and concepts—illustrated with copious examples—that even some successful writers often ignore much to their detriment.
But on the other hand, master writers deploy to their advantage each and every one of the techniques you’ll find in this guide. That is what makes them master writers. But try as hard as you might —searching the Internet, bookstores, or college and universities’ libraries and writing centers— you won’t find all of these techniques in one single book.
This book —Sentence Openers— collects all the sentence openers’ techniques.
Take a determined—but inexperienced—writer struggling to depict a scene in which a character is pondering suicide:
She sank in the sofa and thought about suicide.
That is a perfectly acceptable sentence, but by opening the sentence with a grammatical opener (the past participle), a good writer will whip up the sentence into a dramatic opener that gives the writing a powerful punch:
Overwhelmed by the horrifying thought, she sank in the sofa.
If the writer adds a few ‘nominative absolutes,’ then the sentence will become dramatic, gripping, adding immediacy and emotion by filling the reader’s mind with a sense of simultaneity:
Overwhelmed by the horrifying thought, teeth clenched, the box cutter tightly gripped in her hand, she sank in the sofa, tears coursing down her cheeks.
We are absolutely convinced that the topics and concepts discussed in this textbook will become indispensable tools for the writer who wants to craft athletic, galloping, and riveting prose.
To make our task easier (and the reader’s) we will define and explain all the sentence openers discussed—so as to avoid sending you to a grammar book, Wikipedia, or Google. But we will also illustrate their practical use by means of examples culled from a variety of books of fiction and non-fiction.
To add strength and support to the features we recommend, we will also use examples, both negative and positive, from popular and literary writers that have stood the test of time. We’ve chosen them not because they are bestsellers, but because they are extremely well written, and never boring.
Although contemporary writers focus on the use of short, declarative sentences, metaphors, and similes, what really accounts for agile, breathless writing is the effective use of sentence openers. Therefore, we will focus —in this guide— only on this powerful tool that is ‘sentence openers.’
The great teacher of literary composition and rhetoric, Dionysius of Halicarnassus,[i] in his essay “On Literary Composition” said:
Prose enjoys complete freedom and license to vary composition by whatever changes it pleases. The finest style of all is that which contains the greatest amount of relief from monotony and change of structure… (153).
Sameness and monotony are the writer’s enemy, variation his friend. Dionysius continues: “in discourse, variation is a most attractive and beautiful quality.” Who can disagree with that? And yet, what we find in contemporary writers is all but sameness and monotony.
By imitating the great writers and by daily practice, your writing will take off, fly, soar, and glide for the years to come. Writing and learning by precepts is useless; that is why, though millions of aspiring writers buy Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, they rarely open it. Who wants to learn all those impossible precepts, also called maxims or rules of grammar and usage?
Not only will your writing improve, but also your thinking. Giambattista Vico in his book New Science (1744) said: “The art of writing has greatly refined the nature of our thought …”
What are you waiting for? Go on to Chapter 1, and learn all about making your writing come alive with Sentence Openers!
But wait! Before you immerse yourself in our lessons, let us teach you an important lesson by setting a negative rule: Never open your sentences with: There is, There are, or There were, for these openers never add any meaning to a sentence. For examples see the glossary under ‘Empty sentence openers.’
Now tackle chapter 1.