The Right Words


Even if you don’t care about participial phrases or the flexibility of a well-placed gerund, if you like to write, you will find much to enjoy in Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences. The book  is packed with quotes from every type of book, essay and article, famous and not so, sentences that illustrate the strengths of certain constructions, and many that are simply perfections of language.


“Whereas the truth was, as he alone knew, that the heavens were a glorious blazing golden limitless cathedral of unending and eternal light…” –John Knowles, Indian Summer, 27

No commas, stacked adjectives tumbling over each other, the rush of words that lift…rapturous! Or–

“At a distance he can see the tall line of a dozen or more aqueduct arches, commencing suddenly, suddenly ending; coming now from nowhere, now going nowhere.”–James Gould Cozzens, Morning Noon and Night, last page

I can see those arches, feel what they mean.

At my best, I consider myself workmanly with words, not especially inspired, rarely rising to the artisanal, never to the realm of masterworks. But, nonetheless, I find comfort and aspiration in exquisite language. Thought, structure, wisdom, insight into the human condition, metaphor, symbol, humor, emotion, imagination, all of these drive me to write, hook me in reading a story. Yet it all begins in the infant’s babble, the bricks and mortar,  the words themselves, wrapped, woven, strung together, the medium, the message. Les mots justes.

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