Great Sentences

Creative writing is about weaving webs with storytelling and capturing the blood and guts of life on the page. It takes a few talents to do this well, both tangible and not. 

And a big part of it is just knowing how to put words together in the best possible way. Which words to use, where to put them, what kind of rhythm and emotion to breathe into each sentence. 

A great sentence can be a simple as this one from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, describing one of Gatsby’s all-night parties: 

In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.

Interesting that he used blue instead of green. And notice the rhythm of that last segment with the moths and whisperings and stars. We feel the magic. 

A great sentence can be even simpler, like this one from Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved

In Ohio seasons are theatrical. 

That last word theatrical blows open our imagination, especially placed at the very end, rather than the more mundane arrangement: Seasons are theatrical in Ohio

Or a great sentence can be somewhat complex, like this one from Sandra Cisneros’s short story “Woman Hollering Creek,” where we lie beside a woman in a lonely marriage:

This is what Cleófilas thought evenings when Juan Pedro did not come home, and she lay on her side of the bed listening to the hollow roar of the interstate, a distant dog barking, the pecan trees rustling—shh-shh-shh, shh-shh-shh—soothing herself to sleep.

The sounds are summoned in our mind, and we seem to ease into sleep with that onomatopoetic: shh-shh-shh, shh-shh-shh.

A good place to see great sentences is in the winners of the monthly Gotham Twitter contest, where we give you a brief prompt and ask you to write a Twitter-length story (each winner getting a free Gotham class). 

Our winner for last September’s theme Loophole:

Dracula had one fang due to gingivitis, so theoretically Mina was just half a vampire, and this loophole allowed her to eat garlic smothered fettuccini. @carparelli22

Our winner for last July’s theme Staycation:

My couch is an all-inclusive resort. It has crumbs, loose change, your body’s fading imprint. The drinks are strong but there’s no ocean, just grief. @cararothenbergg

Our winner for last April’s theme Red light:

Framed in her neon showcase, Mihaela shifted in ill-fitting stilettos. She stared past leering faces with a fixed smile, thinking of her daughter in Bucharest. @ingridtruemper

In so few words, these writers have brought to life a whole world. That’s impressive. And you can probably do it too.

Alex Steele
President, Gotham Writers Workshop

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.