A land forged from the fires of strife, blood of heroes, and touch of the gods.
Where deeds of great valor, vile evils, and blazing passions intertwine
to shape the course of elven and human history within.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Power of a Single Sentence

"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."
Do you know what famous book this last line is from?  In my time in high school, many of us read Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, which has some of the most memorable lines in literature.  His first and last sentences of the book are a perfect example of what I call "the power of a single sentence".  These are sentences, usually found at the beginning or end of a book, chapter, or verse, that leave you with a sense of wonder, dread, hope, anger, lust, whatever.  But the purpose of that sentence, in the eyes of the author, is to evoke the ol' emotional response, and get you to continue reading and find out what happens next. 
Of course, if the sentence is the end of the book, what, then, is its purpose?  Closure, I would say, but more than once, that single sentence has propelled me back to the beginning so I could read the whole thing all over again.
Movies do this pretty well, as the visual references are all in place.  One that comes to mind is, of course, the final line in Gone with the Wind; "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."  And Rhett Butler strides calmly away and into the night.  Another is more contemporary; the last line in Cameron's classic The Terminator.  Sarah Connor, in her jeep, looking to the west; "I know".  Check it out on Youtube if you haven't seen it. 
Of course, all of these lines must be taken in context, otherwise the power they wield is simply missing.  But I've tried to cultivate this in my writing and found it really useful and effective.  And trust me, it gives an author such a rush when readers say things like "NOOOOOO!!!!" or "Wow, I never saw THAT coming!!!", or similar nuanced phrases.
Take a look at some of your favorite stories or books and I'll bet you find exactly what I'm talking about in the ones leaving the most impression with you.

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