25 January 2010

New Semester, New Class of Advanced Creative Writers

This semester I've assigned a totally new book: Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. By Virginia Tufte, it was strongly recommended to me last summer, and I thought it would be a strange but fun treat for the class. Advanced writing classes are good places to examine the sentence, the basic unit of communication.

Besides ughs, grunts, and eye-rolls, that is.

And besides gerund-filled invective and hair-twirling.

So, let's call it one of our basic units of communication. Fine. Still, in a creative writing class, it's pretty crucial to truck in sentences. Better still is the ability to really manipulate them. We want to know when a short, emphatic sentence is going to give a kick to the paragraph, or if the form is just going to belabor a point already made. Will a winding, langorous Henry James-ish sentence seduce your reader into the narrative scene or will it merely make her impatient for the point (or the period)? These choices are generally unconscious for writers, at least at first, and they remain largely unconscious for me. Yet our ability to think about them surely enlarges the project here, this semester. This semester we'll take a step back from the sentence, and from our sentences in particular, to see what they are doing for our work as a whole and to learn what a few alterations and adjustments might do.