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An Eye for "Honorable" Sentences

By Luke White

As a reader, writer, and tutor, something I always keep an eye out for are “honorable” sentences, or pieces of a story or essay that consistently progress the plot or themes.

With this concept, a good rule of thumb is your first draft should be your longest, whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction. From there, when revising your draft, get rid of unnecessary sentences or even paragraphs that distract from whatever you are trying to show. A good example of this is The Lord of the Rings trilogy, whose original manuscript counted over 9,000 pages (a current three volume set is around 1,000 pages). While this case far exceeds Stephen King’s 10% rule, which teaches writers to cut 10% of the word count from draft to draft, it shows how easy it is for great writers to write things that do not need to be there, and how cutting down is often an important part of the revision process.

So why strive for “honorable” sentences? For one, they do well in creating a sense of momentum. No reader wants to be caught reading something that isn’t important, like fluffy sentences, so ensuring each piece of your writing does something to work towards whatever you are trying to achieve creates thoughtfulness. As Hemingway says: "The quality of a piece [can] be judged by the quality of the material the author eliminated.” Also, keeping your sentences “honorable” encourages you to be more creative in your writing as you try to figure out how much meaning you can pack into a sentence, or even a word.

With this being said, writing “honorable” sentences does not mean writing in brief. One of my favorite writers, Virginia Woolf, spends just over a hundred pages in her novel To the Lighthouse describing one evening in a Scottish home. While much of the length is spent on descriptive language, each scene furthers the theme in some way; it may not progress the literal plot, but rather the underlying meaning commenting on family, morality, etc.

In the end, every writer is different, and fighting a lack of content can be just as problematic as dealing with excess. However, regardless of your writing style, striving for “honorable” sentences is a great way to strengthen the prose of essays, fiction, and everything in between.

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