I just discovered Janet Fitch’s blog over on MySpace, a fabulous combination of dispatches from her Paint It Black book tour, personal commentary on topics from the Oscars to the nature of genius, and, best of all, advice for writers! Janet’s workshop is among the best I’ve ever enrolled in, and scrolling through her posts, I was reminded of this gem of an exercise on crafting sentences:
A good exercise for getting some artistry into your sentences is to find a paragraph from some author whose style you really admire and copy it, substituting your words, but using their structure. Notice how good writing includes short and long sentences, little dependent clauses (what comes between commas), and really good verbs … not the Terrible 20—was, saw, looked, ran, walked, said, did, made, had, showed—but verbs that are very specific to that sentence, that action. This is a KILLER exercise and one that’s fun to do at any stage of your writing life.