The Secret to Crafting Beautiful Sentences: AI Analysis Reveals All
Mark Forsyth published a book in 2013 called The Elements of Eloquence. It is a book definitely worth reading for anyone who wants to write.
In his introduction, Forsyth says:
“A poet is not somebody who has great thoughts. That is the menial duty of the philosophy. A poet is somebody who expresses his thoughts, how are the commonplace they may be, exquisitely.” Mark Forsyth The Elements of Eloquence
I think he’s right. Novelists are not philosophers, few of them have the rigour of thought that philosophy requires, instead they are more like poets, although the job of the poet is not so much to create narrative as to create beauty.
An Example of A Beautiful Sentence
With that in mind, let us look as some sentences, I find beautiful:
It sounds gorgeous, but what does it actually mean?
In this, I went to my old friend, ChatGPT, and inputed the sentence. What is she talking about, ChatGPT, says I.
This sentence suggests that some experiences in life seem to happen suddenly and effortlessly, almost as if we have been preparing for them unconsciously for a long time.
The phrase “such things” refers to experiences or actions that we take, while the phrase “in an instant, in an eyeblink” implies that these experiences happen quickly and without warning.
The author suggests that these experiences occur so easily because we have “rehearsed” them already, without realizing it. This implies that our minds have been working on these experiences behind the scenes, in silence and darkness, perhaps in our subconscious minds.
The metaphor “Blind but sure-footed, we step forward as if into a remembered dance” suggests that we may not be aware of the forces that are guiding us in our lives, but we are still able to move forward confidently, as if we know exactly what to do. It reinforces the idea that these experiences feel familiar to us, as if we have performed them many times before.
Overall, the sentence suggests that we may have more inner resources than we realize, and that our minds may be preparing us for experiences we may not yet be aware of.
So, this is to do with the theory of the Unconscious, which was not derived by any novelist, but rather a neurologist called Sigmund Freud. We may quibble about whether it was solely Freud’s discovery, but let us ask ChatGPT whether it thinks this sentence relies on the theory of the Unconscious and what it is.
Freud, for example, proposed a theory of the unconscious mind, suggesting that much of our mental activity occurs outside of conscious awareness and is influenced by unconscious thoughts and desires. He argued that these unconscious processes can have a significant impact on our behavior and emotions, even if we are not aware of them.
Jung also explored the concept of the unconscious mind, proposing that it contains a wealth of information and experiences that are not accessible to conscious awareness. He suggested that the unconscious mind can influence our behavior and personality, and that exploring and integrating these unconscious aspects of the self can lead to greater self-awareness and personal growth.
So, on the face of it, Atwood in this sentence is just referring to the theory of the Unconscious — nothing revolutionary in that.
But it’s still said very memorably.
Quoting Forsyth again, again from The Elements of Eloquence, he says:
“Any phrase as long as it alliterates, is memorable and will be believed even if it’s a bunch of nonsense. Curiosity, for example, did not kill the cat. Nobody has ever thrown the baby out with the bathwater nor is there anything particularly right about rain. A miss is as good as a mile doesn’t make sense.”
The point is that Atwood expresses a commonplace theory of the Unconscious in a way that sounds good. That’s what you should be striving for as a writer. You may even find that people remember the way you say something rather than the theologian or philosopher who first came up with the idea. But they’ll only do that if you say it well.
So, how do you do it well?
Through use of music-like devices in language, because language is sound much as music is.
Music (though I am no musicologist) creates its effects through the creation, repetition and disruption of patterns of sound. Beautiful writing does much the same.
Analyzing That Sentence
Let’s look at the sentence again. Let us analyse this sentence, not for sense, but for sound, using a knowledge the so-called Flowers of Rhetoric.
Metaphor: The sentence begins with a metaphor that compares the suddenness of certain experiences to “an instant, in an eyeblink.” This metaphor creates a vivid image of an experience happening so quickly that it seems almost magical or otherworldly.
Repetition: The sentence makes use of repetition to reinforce the idea that these experiences have been rehearsed over and over again. The phrase “in such silence, in such darkness” is repeated twice, creating a sense of emphasis and rhythm.
Metonymy: The phrase “such silence, such darkness” can also be seen as a metonymy, where the darkness and silence represent the hidden, unconscious processes that are at work within us. The repetition of this phrase emphasizes the importance of these hidden processes in preparing us for the experiences we have in life.
Metaphor: The final metaphor in the sentence compares our movement through life to “a remembered dance.” This metaphor creates a sense of grace and fluidity, suggesting that even when we are unaware of the forces at work within us, we are able to move forward confidently and with purpose.
There are a few examples of alliteration in this sentence:
“Such things” – the repeated “s” sound at the beginning of both words creates an alliteration, which helps to draw attention to the importance of these experiences.
“Silence and darkness” – the repeated “s” and “d” sounds in these words create an alliteration that emphasizes the hidden, unconscious nature of the processes that are at work within us.
“Blind but sure-footed” – the repeated “b” sound in these words creates an alliteration that emphasizes the idea that we are able to move forward confidently even when we are not fully aware of the forces that are guiding us.
The sentence “such things take place in an instant, in an eyeblink. This can only be because they have been rehearsed by us already, over and over, in silence and darkness, in such silence, in such darkness, that we are ignorant of them ourselves. Blind but sure-footed, we step forward as if into a remembered dance” includes several rhetorical devices from the list of 39:
Alliteration: The phrase “such things” uses alliteration by repeating the “s” sound.
Anaphora: The sentence includes an example of anaphora by beginning two separate phrases with the same phrase “in such silence, in such darkness.”
Metaphor: The sentence includes a metaphor by comparing the act of stepping forward to “a remembered dance.”
Repetition: The sentence includes repetition of the phrase “in an instant, in an eyeblink,” which creates emphasis and rhythm.
Synaesthesia: The phrase “in silence and darkness” uses synaesthesia by describing the absence of sound and light using sensory terms.
Overall, the sentence demonstrates the use of several rhetorical devices to create a vivid and engaging image of the mysterious processes at work within us as we move through life.
Power Words and Copywriting
In copywriting, power words are words or phrases that are used to create a strong emotional response in the reader or viewer. Power words are intended to grab the reader’s attention, create a sense of urgency or excitement, and persuade them to take action. These words are carefully chosen to elicit a specific emotional response, whether it’s excitement, fear, anger, or joy.
Some examples of power words include:
These words can be used in headlines, subheadings, calls to action, and throughout the body of the copy to create a sense of urgency and persuade the reader to take action. Power words can be especially effective in advertising and marketing copy, where the goal is to persuade the reader to purchase a product or service.
The use of power words can be controversial, as some critics argue that it can be manipulative or deceitful. However, when used ethically and responsibly, power words can be a powerful tool for copywriters to create compelling and persuasive content that engages readers and motivates them to take action.
There are a few words and phrases in the sentence that could be considered power words, although they are used more subtly than in traditional marketing or advertising copy.
“Instant” and “eyeblink” in the opening phrase are both words that create a sense of urgency and immediacy.
“Rehearsed,” “over and over,” and “ignorant” are all words that create a sense of repetition and emphasize the idea that these experiences are deeply ingrained in us.
“Silence and darkness” creates a sense of mystery and intrigue, which can be a powerful emotional trigger.
“Blind but sure-footed” is a phrase that creates a sense of confidence and determination, which can be empowering for the reade
Prosody and meter are important aspects of poetry that can also be used effectively in prose to create a sense of rhythm and musicality.
In poetry, meter refers to the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of verse, while prosody refers to the overall sound and rhythm of the poem, including elements such as rhyme, alliteration, and repetition. These elements work together to create a musical quality that can enhance the emotional impact of the poem.
In prose, the use of meter and prosody can also help to create a sense of rhythm and musicality. This can be achieved through the use of sentence length, word choice, and the repetition of certain sounds or phrases. For example, a writer might use short, choppy sentences to create a sense of urgency or excitement, while longer, flowing sentences might be used to create a more contemplative or reflective tone.
The use of meter and prosody in prose can also help to create a sense of unity and coherence in a piece of writing. By using repeated sounds or phrases, a writer can create a sense of continuity and connection between different parts of the text, helping to tie the piece together and reinforce its overall message or theme.
Overall, while the use of meter and prosody is more commonly associated with poetry, these elements can also be used effectively in prose to create a sense of rhythm and musicality, and to enhance the emotional impact and coherence of the writing.
Again this is a musical device of rhythm and repetition.
Let’s Take A Detailed Look
Such things take place in an instant, in an eyeblink.
This is a trailing sentence. The main clause is:
Such things take place.
Then we have an adverbial clause that describes the manner in which they take place:
In an instant.
Then we have a further adverbial clause that mirrors the first in rhythm, like an echo dying away repeats the rhythm but changes slightly, like music when we might have: A, B, C, then A, B, E, substituting the final note with another to create the musical effect.
In an eyeblink
In terms of prosody, this is
x / x / x / x / x / x /
Such things take place, in an instant, in an eyeblink
These are iambs. It’s not pentameter because there are six of them.
This can only be because they have been rehearsed by use already, over and over, in silence and darkness, in such silence, such darkness, that we are ignorant of them ourselves.
This can only be = x / x / x
Subordinate clause of explanation
because they have been rehearsed by us already
/ x x / / x / / x x / x : the rhythm is quite different here
And then she repeats a chain of adverbial clauses, like she did above
Over and over, in silence and darkness, in such silence, in such darkness
Lots of rhetorical devices. The sentence is hypotactic with lots of subordinate clauses for the effect of rhythm and repetition. Make no mistake, she could have put this idea more plainly. These extra words are here for sound and rhythm only.
A hendiadys where a adjective and nouns are swapped for a noun and noun: so ‘in silence and darkness’ , two nouns, when in silent darkness: adjective and noun would have done.
Anaphora: in such.. and in such..
The repetition of silence and darkness, in such, in such gives alliteration and assonance as well as a repetition of rhythm.
We can get lost in all the technicalities of rhetoric but it is in essence the repetition of the same sounds in the same rhythm and then changing that rhythm. Think of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony’s beginning.
I will depart from what I said before. Words are not identical with music. Just as when we hear a nonsense phrase such as: The force that through the fuse drives the flower drives my green age, we make some kind of sense, we do get the sense of this. Like hypnotic scripts the repetition emphasises the sense: so it’s a silent, dark process (dark in the sense we have no insight into it).
Blind, but sure footed.
Alliteration, but / x / / x.
It’s a sentence that has preceding clauses before the main clause. This creates a tension, a waiting,
we step forward as if into a remembered dance.
Then a trailing clause which creates and echo and then bang.
End on a stressed monosyllable for your beat.
Let’s Us Craft A Beautiful Sentence
The essence of Deliberate Practice is to copy the masters of the craft and as we have seen, Margaret Atwood knows how to craft a beautiful sentence. So let’s use her sentence as the basis for ours.
Copying out passages and pasting them in your Commonplace Book was once common practice. One of its uses to improve your own prose.
A commonplace book is a personal collection of notes, quotations, and other writings accumulated over time by an individual. Commonplace books were popular from the 15th century until the 19th century, when they were gradually superseded by more specialised diaries and journals.
A commonplace book’s contents were often organised by topic or theme, such as quotes on love, wisdom, or politics. The purpose behind a commonplace book was to have a place to record important or intriguing ideas that one encountered while reading or going about their daily lives, so that they could be conveniently accessed afterwards. Scholars, writers, and other intellectuals frequently utilised commonplace books to organise their thoughts and archive knowledge.
So let us begin. Let’s not even bother to choose a topic to see if we can get any sense out of what we have done, after the fact.
Such things take place in an instant, in an eyeblink.
Let us choose: this, instead of such, but it will have to be ‘these’ because we are going to have a plural noun after it. I thought of feelings because writers are always talking about feelings, but going to the thesaurus I find: sympathies.
We shall have a phrasal verb for ‘take place’ so ‘start off’
and then we need an adverbial clause, so, maybe something to convey moderately.
And then another adverbial clause to repeat moderately, with the same rhythm but a different ending: like Beethoven.
These sympathies start off in an lunchtime, in a morning. This must only be because they have been established by us beforehand, again and again, in noise and in fury, in such noise, in such fury, that we are cognisant of them ourselves. Seeing, but clumsy-footed, we stumble backwards, as if into a forgotten show.Tony Walker, one lunchtime.
What do you think of that?