All good writing consists of good sentences properly joined.I've been talking to Katharine Beals about writing instruction, grammar, and the sentence. (Here's Katharine's post on the erasure of the sentence).
- Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg in Higher Lessons in English. A work on English grammar and composition, in which the science of the Language is made tributary to the art of expression. Revised edition, 1896.
At least since the 1980s (the 1980s again!) writing instruction has been about process, not sentences: process, voice, and the production of personal narratives and opinion pieces. Pick up nearly any college composition textbook and you will find in its pages a slew of sample student essays all written in the first person, with discussion of the sentence pushed to the back of the book. There you will find "sentence fragments" and "run ons" and "misplaced modifiers" bundled together in a chunk of pages devoted to grammar and punctuation. The sentence, in today's writing class, is mostly a source of error.
Of course, "process writing" seemed wrong to me from the get-go. I myself never, ever 'free-write,' and since I actually am a writer, I feel I'm on solid ground drawing the conclusion that 'free-writing' is a waste of instructional time.
But I became more convinced that the process approach is misguided after working with Kerrigan's X-1-2-3 method, which gives novice writers a method of building an essay on a stack of sentences with identical subjects and identical sentence structure (Subject-Verb-Object or Subject-Verb-Complement). e.g.:
X Power corrupts.By the time I returned to the classroom to teach freshman writing, I had begun to feel that the sentence is key. Not just because sentences -- not words -- are the raw material of writing, but because the sentence is the essay in some sense. The essay makes an argument, and a sentence is an argument.
1 It corrupts the weak.
2 It corrupts the strong.
3 It corrupts all the relations between the two.
The sentence is an essay in miniature.
Cost of College on William J. Kerrigan's X-1-2-3 method