Sex and Syntax in “Writing Well”


Put a man and a woman who like the look of each other in a place together and what you’ll get pretty soon, among other things, is someone doing something together.  What you get is syntax.  Sex; a relationship; perhaps issue.  What you get is sentences performed – simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex; fragments and declarations and exclamations and commands and questions.  (from Writing Well by Mark Tredinnick)

I am neither a prolific writer nor a prolific lover, but I do know a thing or two about relationships with words and with women.  I’ve learned the way most people learn – trial and error (more error than trial, actually).  Oh, and I have read books.

Mark Tredinnick contends that the process involved in forming the sentences that ultimately leads to good writing is like a mating dance.  Words come together, at times by chance, at times artificially introduced.  Their relationship is tested to see if they make a good fit.  Do they make sense together?  Do they produce together something better than they could evoke on their own?  Can they work together to move the story (or poem, or essay,…) toward a greater destination?

There is, of course, a theological problem with Tredinnick’s analogy that is inherent in our contempoary view of sex.  We don’t discover intimate compatibility through physical intercourse.  We’re designed to bond emotionally and spiritually first and only then, in the covenant of marriage, freely give ourselves to each other.

Yet, setting aside my neo-Puritan critique, there is much to be said for Tredinnick’s perspective.  Writing is an intimate encounter where words that have a life of their own come together and add meaning to the world.  A good sentence, beautifully formed and tenderly presented, is a celebration of a union that goes beyond the words on the page.

*     *     *

Now, for a writing exercise….

Write a single sentence combining words you think might not belong together and weave them around until they seem to fit.

*     *     *

Here’s my try…

She left him for a city big enough to get lost in yet as familiar as a beer with Jesus.

*     *     *

Now you try…

(image “Khajuraho” from Abhishek Singh Bailoo, some rights reserved)

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