Christopher R. Beha’s essay, “The Marquise Went out at Five O’clock: On Making Sentences Do Something”, is chock-full of good crunchy insights and thoughtful advice and things I would have liked to say only he’s saying them first and better. A snippet:
People can disagree, and have, over whether a novel or a story must itself have a “purpose” apart from being beautiful. But it seems to me inarguable that the parts of a novel or a story must have a purpose within the whole. These days, when I find that a sentence I’m writing isn’t working, I don’t think about what I want that sentence to look like or to be; I don’t pull it from the page to weigh it in my hand; I don’t worry over its internal balance. I simply ask myself, “What do I need this sentence to do?” I ask myself what role the sentence plays in its paragraph, what role the paragraph plays in its scene, the scene in its story. If I can’t answer these questions, even in some inarticulate and intuitive way, then I’ve got a problem, and that problem is bigger than this one sentence.
Speaking as a person who spends a lot of time wrestling with sentences, both her own and others, I can only say, Yes. This is how it is. Yes.