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Finding That Perfect Sentence

Are you one of those writers that have trouble finding that perfect sentence for your book, short story, or article? If so, I have a suggestion.
Stop writing.

Yep, you heard me correctly. Stop writing.

It’s not often you hear this advice in conjunction with writing advice. But this is one of the best things I have ever done to enhance my own prose.

A few years ago I was at a conference. It was lunchtime and we were all sitting around the table getting to know each other. As we were introducing ourselves and telling stories, I heard a sentence that brought a vivid image of the scene my new friend was trying to convey.

It’s surprised how often “the perfect sentence” comes up

“That would make a great book title or first sentence,” I blurted out before thinking. We spent the rest of the weekend picking apart each other’s conversations. It’s surprised how often “the perfect sentence” comes up in everyday speech. But then, it’s that what storytelling is? Isn’t that why movie lines become so memorable? I’m 99% positive that most of those lines weren’t mulled over, trying to create a “one-liner.” They become perfect because of their placement in the surrounding story. I have used before most of those lines, many times, in everyday conversation.

“I’ll be back.”
“As you wish.”
“Here’s looking at you, kid.”
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” 
“My Precious.”

This is my challenge to you.

These are all ordinary phrases. It’s their placement in a memorable scene that made them famous. This is my challenge to you. Stop writing and listen. Listen to conversations around you. Pick a sentence out and see where it will fit in your story. Move the words and find a new synonym to enhance the imagery and meaning. Make it a game to find one perfect sentence a day in the conversation of those you interact with.

Here’s the important part. Keep a list of them. Make the list easily accessible. I use a shopping list app on my phone. The same app I use for an actual shopping list, so I tend to use it weekly. When I hear a unique sentence or wording, I add it to my list. Then, when I go to write a new scene, I scan my list and see if there’s anything that might fit. Most of the time, the sentence I’ve written down isn’t used word for word, but the idea will often inspire a whole paragraph.

“Try it. You’ll like it.”

2 thoughts on “Finding That Perfect Sentence

  1. I like this idea. I am going to put a notebook in my car for the purpose of capturing the spoken phrase when I’m out and about. It’s true that other people’s conversations can be a great source of material.

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