Exploring the art of prose



Several Short Sentences About Writing, Verlyn Klinkenborg
Penguin Random House, 2012

There is much good advice in Klinkenborg’s book, and the way that it is written—in a series of sentences and passages—makes it an easy book to read. It feels like poetry. Much of the book is essentially a collection of aphorisms about writing. One thought or idea flows seamlessly into the next. This is a book that could be opened at any point and read, but it shouldn’t be read like that; start at the beginning and Klinkenborg’s advice will become cumulative and ever-layered.

Here’s Klinkenborg on revision:

It’s true that the simplest revision is deletion.

But there’s often a fine sentence lurking within a bad sentence,

A better sentence hiding under a good sentence.

Work word by word until you discover it.

Don’t try to fix an existing sentence with minimal effort,

Without reimagining it.

Towards the end of the book, Klinkenborg cites passages from writers that he admires, and then takes the reader through a series of exercises which help the reader to become a better close reader. Analyzing a passage by Joan Didion, Klinkenborg examines the way that a single word works within a sentence by encouraging the reader to remove that word—and then to insert it again—in order to understand its impact and importance in the flow of the sentence. The purpose of doing this, of course, is to learn how to perform the same type of analysis on your own work.