Beautiful Sentences: A Collection for Writers

To talk to another writer about sentences feels like forging a connection based on the most intimate and arcane sort of shoptalk, much the way mathematicians might bond on the basis of a shared admiration for some obscure, elegant theorem….The well-made sentence transcends time and genre. A beautiful sentence is a beautiful sentence, regardless of when it was written, or whether it appears in a play or a magazine article.

– from Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

I enjoy pulling quotes from books, but rarely do I select them on the basis of their ability to inspire me. More often I treasure the sentence that makes me pause, think, reflect, and then reach for a highlighter to make sure I know where to find it when I come looking for it later in order to reconsider what about made it stand out. 

But sometimes, and these I find especially delightful, I pull a quote because the word choices that the author made are so precisely effective at conveying both the actions and the sentiments and the movements of the narrative that I have to stop in wonder. These particular quotes aren’t useful to post on pretty pictures to inspire contemplation in readers and thinkers; but these quotes are inordinately beautiful for writers.

Since they do not lend themselves well to sharing without context, as hopefully I’ve provided enough here, I don’t put them up in quote posts. But they deserve to be shared, and so, for the writers out there, some “shoptalk” – here are some of my favorite “just perfect” sentences. 

From “The Furnished Room,” a short story, by O. Henry

“The mantel’s chastely severe outline was ingloriously veiled behind some pert drapery drawn rakishly askew like the sashes of the Amazonian ballet.”

From Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West

“He is perpetually drunk on what comes out of his mouth, not what goes into it. He talks incessantly. In the morning he comes out of his bedroom in the middle of a sentence; and at night he backs into it, so that he can just finish one more sentence.”

From Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo

“Everything here suggested perpetuity: buildings instead of tents, streets instead of paths, even street signs. The recolonization of Africa by the imperialism of good intentions.”

From My Family and Other Animals by Gerard Durrell

“Among the myrtles the mantids moved lightly, carefully, swaying slightly, the quintessence of evil. They were lank and green, with chinless faces and monstrous globular eyes, frosty gold, with an expression of intense, predatory madness in them. The crooked arms, with their fringes of sharp teeth, would be raised in mock supplication to the insect world, so humble, so fervent trembling slightly when a butterfly flew too close.”

From “The Red Geranium,” a short story, by Flannery O’Connor

“It was a dull occupation at night when the old girls crabbed and crocheted in the parlor and the man in the house had to listen and judge the sparrow-like wars that rasped and twittered intermittently.”

Pnin, by Vladimir Nabokov

“He was still at the blissful stage of collecting his material; and many good young people considered it a treat and an honor to see Pnin pull out a catalogue drawer from the comprehensive bosom of a card cabinet and take it, like a big nut, to a secluded corner and there make a quiet mental meal of it, now moving his lips in soundless comment, critical, satisfied, perplexed, and now lifting his rudimentary eyebrows and forgetting them there, left high upon his spacious brow where they remained long after all trace of displeasure or doubt had gone.”

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What sentences have stood out to you in your reading? Written any good ones that just make you giddy with joy?

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7 thoughts on “Beautiful Sentences: A Collection for Writers

  1. Beautiful sentences are wonderful to find, for sure. Your examples are perfect. I loved this one: “He is perpetually drunk on what comes out of his mouth, not what goes into it.” I think we all know someone like that. 😄

  2. I do love beautiful sentences. I was reading The Hobbit to my kids tonight and came across one. I thought to myself, that’s a good line. I need to remember that, but of course there was no time to reflect on it properly or commit it to memory when little ones are clamoring for you to keep reading. And so it is lost to me. Kind of like Gollum losing the one ring. 😉

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