the worst sentence

I came across this article recently on gawker.com. It describes a literary contest “which awards the worst opening sentence of an imaginary novel every year.” An let me tell you, the winner is a hum-dinger. (You’ll have to actually click through the above links if you want to read it. I know, I know—the work I make you do just to read a bad sentence.)

A bad sentence can ruin whole paragraphs of otherwise passable prose. But really, that doesn’t happen often. Odds are, the next sentence isn’t going to be much better if your opening is that bad.

Good sentences, on the other hand, can be magical. My favorite written sentence of all time comes from Martin Millar’s novel, Milk, Sulphate, and Alby Starvation. It goes like this: “The Chinese man looked mysterious, and not just because he was Chinese.” That sentence is beautiful. Don’t see it? Think about all it says with so few words. There is something profound in it’s simplicity. Robust thought in conserved space. A few words, but a complete image.

That, my friends, is a well crafted sentence.

No, it’s not likely to give you chills. You aren’t going to gather co-workers around you tomorrow at work and make them sit and listen to you read this sentence. You won’t even take the time to cut-and-paste it into an email you quickly shoot out to your closest 500 friends. But if the goal of language is to communicate, that sentence does the trick and does it nicely.

I hope to write sentences like that. Too many writers try too hard to write lofty, flowing sentences. They pack in adverbs and semi-colons like a novice cook using spices. The result is something too rich to be enjoyed, too crowded to make sense. Simple beauty, however, will never lead you wrong.

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About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

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