Copy and Compose Sentences



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A Reduction of the first half of Copy and Compose, A Guide to Prose Style

by Winston Weathers and Otis Winchester (Prentice-Hall, 1969).


Basic Sentence Patterns— We’ll begin with a number of basic sentence patterns, ranging from the most succinct to the elaborate compound-complex. To understand what they do and how they do it, first COPY THE MODEL SENTENCE EXACTLY—word for word, including every comma, dash, period, etc. Then to make this sentence form part of your writer's stock, COMPOSE a sentence of similar length, structure, and order that is at the same time entirely original.
01 Loose
“I remember one splendid morning, all blue and silver, in the summer holidays when I reluctantly tore myself away from the task of doing nothing in particular, and put on a hat of some sort and picked up a walking-stick, and put six very bright colored chalks in my pocket.” —G. K. Chesterton, A Piece of Chalk
Express the main thought at the outset and add details, modifying and compounding is a source of rhythm. This can be diffuse, anticlimactic and overworked.
02 Periodic
“Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature
Delay completing the main thought until the end or near it. Delaying phrases and clauses postpones it. Not parallelism of prepositional phrases. Complex sentences easily written as periodic; compound sentences can't but their clauses can. Loose sentences can be changed to periodic by adding or moving forward a modifier, inverting the sentence, or beginning sentence with “It was.”
03 Inverted
“Immoral Ovid was, but he had high standards in art.” —Gilbert Highet, Poets in a Landscape
Subject-verb-complement, is usual order, almost always with declarative sentences. To shift emphasis in sentence alter the order of basic elements. Reader is surprised to encounter difference in order. End position of sentence is the most emphatic, first is slightly less, middle is certainly least. When complement or verb is the most important element consider inverting. Careful, it can be awkward.

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