Saturday, June 16, 2007

Fifty-Dollar Sentences

By Keith Fisher

“When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands . . .” These words from the Declaration of Independence are remembered for lofty ideals. They are used as a symbol of freedom by millions.

Basically, it says that sometimes people need to change their ties to other people or in this case, a king.

You may ask, “Why didn’t the author just come out and say it?” Because it was written during a time when people labored over the right words to use in a mere letter to loved ones. Writing was an art form. It called upon the reader to examine the beauty of the written word.

Thomas Jefferson was commissioned by the Continental Congress to draft a document that spelled out their intentions and provided a symbol that rallied a people who would soon be called into war. The Declaration (with a few changes from Jefferson's editors) was the result of his labor.

Life is different today. With all the competing media, the average readers don’t have time to decipher magnificent writing that makes them think. They like plain English they can read quickly.

With role models like Jefferson, Dickens, Whitman, Shakespeare, and others, it’s easy to fall into the trap of the literary long-winded. We try to impress our peers with twenty-dollar words and fifty-dollar sentences.

We want to imitate opening lines like, "It was a dark and stormy night", or "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times", and "Oh Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done". These are lofty sentiments that say it all, but if an author of fiction used opening lines like those today, chances are it would not be published.

We must reach into the heart of a reader and grab their attention from the first word. We cannot express ideas that cause the reader to pause and reflect on the beauty of the fifty-dollar sentences.

We are told that if the reader pauses, they will move on, and we have lost our chance to entertain. Therefore we must write words that are familiar, that conjure images quickly processed, making room for that which follows.

David G Woolley, author of the Promised Land series said, “If we do it well we transport the reader to a place just beyond eternity without leaving the Lazy-Boy. It sure ain’t easy but it is doable.” I echo his sentiment, It isn’t easy—but we can do it.

Have you ever taught a 12-year-old Sunday school class? The students tune out the teacher most of the time. There is however, a very small attention window, a short time when you can teach. A teacher must be prepared to fill the window. Writing fiction is like that. The rewards are immense, but oh! How I wish I could write fifty-dollar sentences that waft elevated themes to the heavens.


Nichole Giles said...

What a wonderful way to put it. Remember, though, that our sentences do matter, and each word still must count. Even though our English seems much more simple, our words have the opportunity to resonate in the minds of our readers.

Great thoughts on this!


Tristi Pinkston said...

This is where literary fiction comes in. You can write those fifty-dollar sentences in a literary novel, but unfortunately there isn't room in the LDS market for a literary genre right now. Hopefully, someday soon . . .

Very good blog, by the way. One of your best.