The Sentence Inventory

Published August 20, 2012 by Elsa Pla

This past week’s exercise:

Go through your list of titles (refer to my post “The You List”), pick one, write a reflection piece on it, and see where the muse takes you. 

My earliest memory is of playing hide & seek with my mother at my grandmother’s creepy house. Here’s an excerpt from my reflection on “The Locked Desk”:

As a little girl, I was afraid of my grandmother’s house. It possessed an eerie quality that made me nervous. Perhaps its strangeness resulted from its ancient, unkept appearance and the fact that it was dreadfully out-of-place in the middle of the modern city. Perhaps because of the artifacts it contained: solemn columns, antique furniture, unusual objects, and obscure family portraits whose threatening eyes seemed to constantly glare at me. Whatever the reason for its weirdness, the house frightened me.

The eeriest piece of furniture in the house was my grandmother’s personal desk: a large and dark Spanish “Vargueño” intricately carved with fierce jungle animals and demon-like creatures. The front panel opened downward and doubled as a writing surface. When opened, the desk released a strong aroma of cedar and parchment and revealed dozens of small compartments and locked drawers. The desk was the heart of the house. The whole house — with its darkness, strong smells, many rooms, locked closets, and threatening “presences” — seemed to extend from it.

What did my grandmother keep locked up in her desk? Letters? Photographs? A diary? What sinister secrets does the desk conceal?

The point of the exercise is to wake up the muse. I love it.

This week I’m going to try an exercise I learned from a teacher who attended the Denver Writing Project Summer Institute:

The Sentence Inventory

1- Construct a chart that lists sentence beginnings, main verbs, and number of words (you could also list nouns, adjectives, adverbs, etc).

2- Pick a paragraph from a manuscript you’re working on, and inventory the components of your sentences.

(Or, pick a paragraph from a work by a favorite author, and inventory the components of his or her sentences.)

3- Analyze the sentence structure, verb choice, and sentence length of the paragraph.

The point is to get a better picture of your writing style and reflect on possible changes.

(If you’re analyzing a favorite author’s paragraph, the point is to reflect on his or her style and learn something new.)

Example:

Sentence Inventory of the second paragraph of “The Locked Desk”:

First Words—————–Main Verb(s)———–# Words

The eeriest piece—————-was, carved——————29

The front panel—————opened, doubled—————11

When opened—————-released, revealed————–21

The desk—————————-was————————-8

The whole house—————–seemed———————20

Analysis: I notice that four of my five sentences start with “The.” I won’t change them, but I’ll keep this tendency in mind. I’m okay with the variety in sentence length. I’m not happy  with having two sentences with the verb “was.” I wonder if I should change the verb in the fifth sentence to “constituted.”

See how it works? This exercise is a great revision tool.

Try it! 🙂

I’ll post again next Monday.

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