Chosing the right words and crafting a sentence into its best form is a difficult and frustrating task. There really is a difference between writing a sentence that is simple in structure and meaning, and a sentence that is complex in structure, but still simple in meaning, or even a simple sentence with carefully chosen words.
What’s a simple sentence anyway? It is a very basic form of sentence; direct object, “the,” followed by subject, person performing the action, and verb, the action. Sometimes there is no direct object, just a verb and a noun.
Some of the best examples of finely crafted sentences come from, yes novels, but also song lyrics. The line I used for the title of this post is from Leonard Cohen’s magnificent song Hallelujah. Cohen uses simple sentences in his song Hallelujah but uses powerful words to evoke vivid images.
The lines, “Your faith was strong, but you needed proof. You saw her bathing on the roof. Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you,” and also “There’s a blaze of light in every word,” are simple in structure but all four sentences evoke powerful images. In the first sentence the word “but” is a contrasting conjunction that combines two simple sentences.
“The chisels are calling, it`s time to make sawdust, steely reminders of things left to do.”
Knofler is also gifted at using simple sentences to evoke vivid imaginations of the mandolin maker’s workshop covered in sawdust. And the scene outside his workshop window, “The rain on the window, the snow on the gravel, the seasons go by to the songs in the wood.” He doesn’t say that time passes as the animals outside go about their business. Knofler paints a word picture of seasons blending one into another and nature continuing on as Monteleone crafts mandolins in his sawdust covered workshop.
My final example of song lyrics with beautiful sentence structure and careful word choice is a song that was originally a poem. Raglan Road by Patrick Kavanagh is a beautiful poem and Luke Kelly of The Dubliners does it great justice when he sings it as On Raglan Road.
Kavanagh could have written, “The first time I saw her was on Raglan Road in Autumn and I thought she might be trouble.” He doesn’t say it like that though. Kavanagh says, “On Raglan Road of an autumn day I saw her first and knew that her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue.” High language? Maybe, but there’s no doubt that Kavanagh’s word choices and where he places them within a very long complex sentence is more powerful, painting a more vivid word picture, and evoking more of an emotional response.
The words we choose and their positions within a sentence can weaken our writing or strengthen it. Poets and song writers can sometimes provide us with the best examples of strong writing.