Publication of dg’s new essay book The Erotics of Restraint , Essays on Literary Form (Biblioasis, Aug. 2019) is imminent. The Walrus has excerpted a trimmed down version of one of the essays on its web site. The essay is called “Building Sentences,” and in turn, it is adapted from a series of four columns that appeared in the National Post a while back. Here’s how it begins:
ENGLISH WAS MY worst subject (next to Health) in high school right through to my second year of university, when I stopped taking it. I’d fallen afoul of the empty-rule syndrome. Don’t use the pronoun I in an essay; don’t begin sentences with but or because; write paragraphs in the topic sentence, body text, conclusion pattern (even if it bores you to death to say the same thing three times); vary sentence structure. The trouble with these rules is that no one told me why any of them would be especially useful.
“Vary sentence structure” was a rule I puzzled over for years. No one explained grammar and syntax to me well enough for me to be able to make useful connections. At first, I thought, Well, I can write long and short sentences, something like Hemingway. Then I practiced emphatic placement of important material (at the beginning or the end of the sentence, I was told) and inversion (writing the sentence backwards). None of this got me anywhere, because I could not join the spirit of a sentence—what emotional and factual impact I intended—with the idea of sentence structure.