Native Authors Craft the Best Sentences

It’s been a delight to read new releases of contemporary stories by inspiring Native authors like Christine Day, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Dawn Quigley, Brian Young, and many others. 

Native Authors Craft the Best Sentences

To study the craft of writing in order to find our writing voice, The Art of Authors Toolbox will focus on sentences and sentence structure this year. 

While reading books by Native American authors, I flagged some of their best sentences. In each post, I will share a set of golden lines – lines that intrigue me. And we should ask:

  • What do we notice about the sentence structure or pattern? 
  • Although the sentence pattern likely has a name, we will discuss a nickname. 
  • We’ll look at how this sentence pattern can be used in revisions based on its purpose in writing. (Katie Wood Ray discusses this craft technique in her book WONDEROUS WORDS)

Professional Examples 

From THE SEA IN WINTER by Christine Day (p. 2)

“Seven minutes after the bell, I finally slap my composition notebook down on my desk and read the prompt on the whiteboard. Mrs. Porter changes it every day. She share quotes from famous novels, random facts about nature, or sometimes even song lyrics. Today, she shared this word and its definitions:

Sanctuary

A place of refuge or safety; a place of protection from danger or a difficult situation.

A nature reserve; a refuge for wildlife.

A holy place; a building or room for religious worship.

From THE SEA IN WINTER by Christine Day (p. 3)

“Mrs. Porter always tells us to be creative and open and free, to writer or draw or spill whatever we’re feeling, as we feel it. She never reads what we write; there are no grades in homeroom, just attendance and participation points.”

What do I notice about the sentence pattern?

The definitions provide different meanings for the word sanctuary. Semi-colons are used to separate similar phrases, which in a dictionary definition are “complete” thoughts, which is how the author used them here.

In the second example, Christine Day combines two separate ideas “She never reads what we write” and the reason why the teacher doesn’t look over the work… because “there are no grades in homeroom, just attendance and participation points.” The two statements are related and pack more punch when written together.

Nickname of this sentence pattern: Powerful Punch

The semi-colon (looks like a left-hook) is used between two (or more) examples which continue to drive home the meaning of the sentence. 

A dictionary entry sounds short and choppy, but placing two similar definitions with each other makes more of a point.

Alone

A place of refuge or safety.

A place of protection from danger or a difficult situation.

Together

A place of refuge or safety; a place of protection from danger or a difficult situation.

The parts can be written as separate sentences or complete thoughts. 

Alone

She never reads what we write.

There are no grades in homeroom, just attendance and participation points.

Together

She never reads what we write; there are no grades in homeroom, just attendance and participation points.

The second part adds more clarification about the first statement – why does the teacher never read what they write? Because it’s homeroom and she only takes attendance and checks to see if the students participate. 

In addition, combining the two creates a rhythm when read out loud.

Envision in a Work-In-Progress (WIP)

  1. Where in your manuscript can you find a few lines that essentially say the same thing?
  2. Remember, the second and third sentences clarify the first thought. How can you organize them to pack a punch? 
  3. Use a semi-colon between two or more complete thoughts. 
  4. Re-read your revised copy out loud for rhythm.

Feel free to share your before and after sentences in the comments.

I’ll look at how Native authors craft the best sentences again next time, until then –

Happy Writing!

Related

Study How Authors Use Repetition

Tools to Help Organize Word Choice

Andrea

Andrea

Children's Author and Educator

More to explorer