Building the Arc
Every sentence is its own little story, and, ideally, there is drama in every single sentence, and it has a motion, it has a shape, and the shape, to me, feels like this. It's building. It doesn't necessarily go down the way an ending does. I'm sure there are musical connections here, but it definitely goes up. The jury foreman unfolded the paper and said, "We find the defendant guilty," in a voice that was hard to hear, which may have been because she had a cold. Where is the big idea, what I call the power word, in that sentence? Where's the big idea? Who knows?
Unfolded the paper.
Unfolded the paper, really? I'm gonna ask for another suggestion.
Guilty, the word guilty. The big news is guilty. Where is it located? Smack dab in the middle, embedded, and then we go on to the voice and the health of the jury foreman. If you've got a moment when a defendant is named guilty, put that at the end, and maybe you have the cold, you might not even, you might lose the cold, but...
the voice of the jury foreman was hard to hear as she unfolded the paper and said, "We find the defendant guilty." He told me he liked my hair, and my long legs, and the gap between my teeth, and my eyes. (audience laughter) Of this list of details, and this has to do with lists of details in general, which is the one that stands out for you, the most interesting of this person's traits?
The gap between my teeth, naturally. The others pale by comparison, and with the gap. He told me he liked my hair, my long legs, my eyes, and the gap between my teeth. Feel the difference? Every sentence, there are always exceptions, but as a rule, let your sentences end on the power word, let your paragraph end on the power sentence, let your chapter end on the power paragraph, and let your book end very powerfully. I have to confess, as I say this, the youngest of my sons said to me one day when he was a teenager, "Do you know "that every time you walk out of the room you, "as you're leaving, you close with a zinger?" (laughing) And I realized, okay, I maybe took that too far. There was a Tiffany style lamp and gold patterned wallpaper and stuffed heads of endangered species of animals covering the walls from his various trips to Africa with his uncle Billy who used to work on Wall Street. What are you most interested in in this sentence?
Yes, endangered, stuffed heads of endangered species of animals in the middle.