Suspend Your Disbelief

Posts Tagged ‘style’

Shop Talk |

Is there such a thing as a perfect sentence?

Recently, Publishers Weekly posted a provocative list of “5 Perfect Sentences.” Here’s one, from “A Romantic Weekend” by Mary Gaitskill: He was beginning to see her as a locked garden that he could sneak into and sit in for days, tearing the heads off the flowers. Now, I love this sentence, but the list raises the question: is it perfect? It’s beautiful, sure—and over at BookRiot, Greg Zimmerman has a wise and thoughtful post about what makes a beautiful sentence. But what does it mean to say something is a “perfect” sentence? Perfect might not mean lush, or beautiful, or […]


Shop Talk |

tl;dr? Not for a semicolon lover.

If you’re a semicolon kind of guy (or gal), you’re not alone: Ben Dolnick, writing in the New York Times, tells the story of his love affair with that much-misused punctuation mark: My disdain for semicolons outlasted my devotion to Vonnegut. Well into college I avoided them, trusting in the keyboard’s adjacent, unpretentious comma and period to divvy up my thoughts. I imagined that, decades hence, if some bright-eyed teenager were to ask me for advice, I’d pass Vonnegut’s prohibition right along, minus the troublesome bit about transvestites and hermaphrodites. By now I’d come across Isaac Babel’s famous description of […]


Shop Talk |

What your favorite punctuation mark says about you

A friend of mine once admitted to being obsessed with dashes. She said it like she was admitting to a clandestine affair–bashfully yet boldly: “I LOVE the dash.” When she said that, I felt a pang of jealousy. For I, too, love the dash, and I am not good at sharing things I love. Perhaps you, too, adore a particular piece of punctuation: the workhorse comma, the sophisticated semicolon, the much-maligned interrobang. Author Leah Petersen (via) offers a humorous guide to what this favorite punctuation mark says about you: Period (.): Type A personality. You are decisive and clear. You […]


Shop Talk |

The loooooong sentence

When Twitter arrived on the scene, its proponents found themselves defending the very short. James Poniewozik put Twitter in historical context, and, in the New York Times, writer and teacher Andy Selsberg argued that writing short could make you a better writer. Now, in the L.A. Times, Pico Iyer writes a defense of the very long sentence: I’m using longer and longer sentences as a small protest against — and attempt to rescue any readers I might have from — the bombardment of the moment. […] Enter (I hope) the long sentence: the collection of clauses that is so many-chambered […]


Shop Talk |

At a loss for words

Yesterday we talked about a tool to help you analyze your writing for “flabbiness” or “fitness” based on your use of prepositions, adjective and adverbs, and so on. But could analyzing your writing tell you something about your mental fitness, too? Researchers now believe that they may be able to detect the early signs of Alzheimer’s from a writer’s language. In a recently published paper, scientists at the University of Toronto examined the output of three writers for signs of the disease. From the study (titled “Longitudinal detection of dementia through lexical and syntactic changes in writing: a case study […]


Shop Talk |

A note on paraphrasing

The worlds of monument-building and writing don’t overlap much–but recently, the unveiling of the Martin Luther King, Jr., memorial on the national mall offered an important lesson on why every word matters. Perhaps you heard about it? In 1968, shortly before his assasination, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered a speech titled “The Drum Major Instinct.” In discussing what he called “the desire to be up front… the desire to be first,” he concluded: Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum […]


Shop Talk |

Under the Influence… of Stanley Plumly

When I was an MFA student at the University of Maryland, Stanley Plumly said two things about my poetry that have stuck with me and shaped not only how I think about my writing process but also how I approach teaching creative writing. In one conference, he asked, Will you ever write a ten-syllable line? Stanley Plumly is fond of John Keats’s work, so maybe he did want me to write in ten-syllable lines, but the question was designed to force to me think about formal choices I was making. My initial, silent response was that I was experimenting with […]


Shop Talk |

What Makes Gatsby Great

When I heard The Great Gatsby had been rewritten for intermediate readers, I did what many lovers of the novel probably did—checked the online version to see how my favorite passage had been changed, shook my fist, and then re-read the original, penciling all kinds of ecstatic remarks into the margins. In case you missed Celeste’s post, Macmillan has released a simplified version of the novel as “retold by Margaret Tarner.” Essentially, it relates the events of the Gatsby story without all the big words and elaboration. And so my favorite passage, two beautiful paragraphs of imagery and movement and […]


Shop Talk |

Shakespeare was a neuroscientist?

Neurolinguist Philip Davis is studying the effects of Shakespeare on the brain. Big Think has more info: In all of his plays, sonnets and narrative poems, Shakespeare used 17,677 words. Of these, he invented approximately 1,700, or nearly 10 percent. Shakespeare did this by changing the part of speech of words, adding prefixes and suffixes, connecting words together, borrowing from a foreign language, or by simply inventing them, the way a rapper like Snoop Dogg has today. […] [Davis] is studying what he calls “functional shifts” that demonstrate how Shakespeare’s creative mistakes “shift mental pathways and open possibilities” for what […]




Literary Partners