by Kelly Baugh
Last week I read The Harem Midwife by Roberta Rich, sequel to The Midwife of Venice. The plots of both these books were entertaining, but I especially loved the settings. Both take place in the mid-1550’s in first Venice and then Constantinople. Rich excels at creating scenes the reader can almost taste, smell, and touch.
If this had been my own copy instead of a library book, many of the descriptive passages would have been dripping with highlighter. Her sentence construction is superb and airy.
I struggle in my descriptive passages. They often sound repetitious or clunky. Until I get my own copy of the book, I’ll rely on the numerous sticky notes I have on the wall next to me with examples of Rich’s lovely sentences. When I’m writing something I can tell isn’t working, I turn and read one of her passages for inspiration.
In my quest for better sentences, I also recently stumbled upon this fun little gem: Beware of nominalizations (AKA zombie nouns) by Helen Sword. As Sword says, “You want your sentences to live, not to join the living dead.”
So, along with my usual fare of writing workshops, blogs and textbooks, my summer goal is to revisit some of my favorites: O Pioneers!, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Winter Garden, Girl in Hyacinth Blue. In the same way that Sword contrasts the beauty of the Ecclesiastes passage with Orwell's satirical rewrite, I want to study sentences, to dissect what makes great literature so beautiful to read.
What books, writers or essays inspire you to work on your areas of writing weakness? What resources have you found to be especially helpful in your writing career?