Playing With Words: Sentence Experiments – Writing Exercise

Shadows II by Jaume Plensa MMBA on loan from Georges Marciano

Shadows II by Jaume Plensa
MMBA on loan from Georges Marciano

Nothing perks up a piece of prose – and a writer – more than playing around with sentence structures.

A fun exercise I especially enjoy is to take a sentence that feels totally alien and try to write my own sentence in exactly that same style. Why? To surprise myself. To kick myself out of my same old same old ho-hum sentence habits. To discover new rhythms.

“I’m playing with words” Virginia Woolf

The Exercise

Write THREE sentences in each of the following structures:

  • prozeugma*:  the meaning of the verb in a first clause is carried over and understood in the following clauses. You can keep it archaic or give it a contemporary twist. Surprise yourself!

Her beauty pierced mine eye, her speech mine woeful heart, her presence all the powers of my discourse. (Puttenham)*

  • hypozeugma: a series of words or phrases all depend on the last verb or clause.

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. (Shakespeare)*

  • mesozeugma: the verb in the middle of the sentence controls all the subjects. This can be particularly fun to play with – full of surprises

First the door locked, and then his jaw.*

If you’ve more time to play, pick your favorite sentence and keep writing.

My ‘Rule of Three’

Why do I suggest writing THREE sentences for each example? As a teacher of creative movement, I notice that while the first attempt to ‘solve’ a creative problem often produces amazing ideas, it is on the third (or later) try that something really different emerges. Try it and see what you think. Let me know.

Shadows II by Jaume Plensa

Shadows II by Jaume Plensa
MMBA on loan from Georges Marciano

* Please note: the terms and examples I use come from Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric. A wonderful word toybox! You’ll find plenty more examples and explanations there.

Hope you enjoy this challenge as much as I do!

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7 thoughts on “Playing With Words: Sentence Experiments – Writing Exercise

  1. Yes! So fun to play with sentence structure and watch the feeling of a piece change accordingly. This is a great idea. Probably a good exercise for people who have trouble with misplaced modifiers too, as they would get to practise how to phrase things according to where the verb is.

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