• Writing Workshop: The Art of the Sentence

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    (Editor’s Note: We’ve extended the registration deadline for tonight’s seminar The Art of the Sentence to 6:00 p.m. We’re also making a special offer to those of you who follow us on Twitter: $15 off each session. Visit the Registration page to sign up, and Twitter followers, click on the drop-down menu to make your selection. See you all tonight! And now let’s hear from Joel Weinbrot on what you can expect from tonight’s offering. DD)


    Writers have a complex and frequently vexed relationship to their sentences. The nature of this relationship was perhaps most famously expressed by William Faulkner, who advised writers to “kill your darlings,” by which he meant, “destroy the sentences you love only for their own sake.”  The command has the ring of madness and stands in direct opposition to another well-known piece of advice about love, which asks us to set the object of it free. Why does Faulkner believe we should hold a razor to the throats of the sentences we beget and adore, prepared and even eager to slash?  Why are we always cautioned to view them with so much skepticism and distrust, as if by their nature they have the power to damage or even destroy the story of which they are a part and constitute?

    A sentence, we are told again and again, should never call attention to itself. It should always be in service of story, which the writer should privilege above all other elements in fiction. One of our aims will be to temporarily suspend commonplaces like these in order to clarify the philosophy which they presuppose. What we will want to do is raise some questions about the austerity, validity, and universality of the “sentence rules” we are typically advised to heed if we wish to write good fiction.

    In this seminar we will not be offering objective, ironclad criteria by which we may judge a given sentence to be good or bad, powerful or weak, beautiful or ugly, because there are none. Nor will we prescribe rules for writing sentences “well” (though we will hold up some of these rules to scrutiny).  What we will do is (pace Faulkner) temporarily pocket our blades and take a deeper look at sentences, darlings included. We will look at examples of sentences fashioned by classic and contemporary writers to see what makes them worthy of our attention and admiration. We will consider the powers and possibilities of sentences in a variety of contexts, how they can open frontiers of artistic possibility, or bar them. We will examine how sentences relate to other recognized elements of narrative and non-narrative fiction. We will study the shape, texture, energy, and musicality of sentences. We will take a second and third look at sentences that might initially strike us as odd, repulsive, strange, or confusing.

    In short, our goal in this seminar will be to liberate ourselves from readymade criteria by which we reflexively judge and sentence sentences to death.


    Joel Weinbrot earned his PhD in English (with a Creative Writing dissertation) from Florida State University. His work has appeared in Barrelhouse, Golden Handcuffs Review, Caketrain, The Portland Review and elsewhere.



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