‘Perfection’ is a word that has done more damage to the self-esteem of creative types than any other. The idea of perfection to most is a goal that can be achieved with study and hard work. Afterall, there are some who still claim they read the perfect book, wielding it as proof that perfection is possible. To those who have found the perfect book I say, ‘You need to read more books.’
The Dream of Perfection
I am not saying that said book is not good, but it simply isn’t perfect. One can argue that something is made perfect by its combination of what it does well and what it does poorly. Yet, I hold the belief that perfection is an impossible goal, but one more than worthy or pursuit.
The dream of perfection since we learnt the word was to strive towards it. To work, to push oneself towards perfection. With this dream, we believed that we could touch the sky. Some have gone so far in life and done so well, but the wisest of these people know the truth.
Perfection is unattainable, yet their efforts towards reaching it have made them who they are today.
A Perfect Sentence
While it is clear to most that writing the perfect novel is impossible, is writing the perfect sentence easier? A question that crossed my mind and upon further research, I am not alone. Great authors such as Hemingway, an author a lot of writers are tired of hearing about, have pondered the same question.
With that in mind, what can one do to write the perfect sentence?
One must approach these questions calmly and patiently. Analyse the question, set the parameters, develop and run an experiment. Scientific process has done so much good for the world’s health and development, so let’s approach writing with the same attitude.
What Makes a Perfect Sentence?
First, a sentence has a purpose, like everything else. Everything natural and unnatural has a purpose, even if it isn’t practical. People to this day are still finding their purpose in life, taking other people’s expectations into account as well as their own. Their sense of discovery something beautiful and amazing.
The purpose of a sentence is to convey an event or emotion in a novel to the reader. Yet, that is a lot to work with, isn’t it? Some emotions are too complicated to convey in a single sentence...or are they?
"Of all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’"
- John Greenleaf Whittier
A popular quote that is spread around the writing community. The true wonder of this quote is that it makes a bold claim and backs it with a strong argument. Not to mention Whittier only uses one sentence to do it. The phrase, ‘it might have been’, is emotive, causing the reader to ponder, washed over by a wave of remorse.
With this in mind, the perfect sentence can convey anything, no matter how complex. The simplification of something to a single sentence concentrates its effect. With that in mind, we have our first parameter, our first guideline for writing the perfect sentence.
Parameter 1: The sentence must contain the essential point behind an idea.
By approaching the question this way, we can see that the perfect sentence needs to be both the simplification of something that commonly takes more than one sentence to convey. Personally, I am all for this first parameter. The simplification of any writing is the essence of powerful writing.
Let us move on.
Now, let us establish more parameters. The next and most obvious parameter to set is the requirement for the sentence to serve its purpose.
Parameter 2: The perfect sentence needs to have a purpose and fulfil it.
With that parameter set, we need to establish the use of language. As we well know, there are several styles of writing that dominate the world, in every genre. That being said, it would be foolish to say which writing style would make up the perfect sentence.
Certain styles are better suited for conveying certain ideas. Some styles incorporate a poor sense of grammar, even spelling. Yet, these are still valid styles which incorporate a sense of poetic license. That is still a parameter we can set.
Parameter 3: Any style of writing is valid, regardless of correct grammar or spelling.
That is three parameters for the perfect sentence set, it is not time to develop and run an experiment.
With the parameters of our experiment set, let us discuss the tools and process. First, I believe a great test for creating the perfect sentence is to work with a complicated idea. The reason for using a complicated idea is to force us to find the essence of the idea. That should fulfil the first parameter and in doing so, bring us closer to writing a perfect sentence.
That being said, the complicated idea should be vague, worthy of long discussion. Like an emotion, such as sadness which John Whittier referred to in the above quote. In our case, let us use the polar opposite and work with the idea of happiness.
Finally, let us find the essence of the idea, the essence of happiness. To find the essence, let’s discuss it, till we find a singular point which encapsulates said essence.
The Essence of Happiness
A topic worthy of heavy discussion, as well as lengthy. Yet, I believe it would be foolish to waste your time with such a lengthy, one-sided discussion. Yet, I did state that I would approach this experiment with patience. In fulfilling both promises, I will have the discussion and discuss the highlights.
Highlight 1: Happiness is subjective. Everyone has their own idea of happiness; some find happiness in security, some find it in another person’s arms and some simply want to wear a funny hat.
Highlight 2: Happiness can be achieved with either logic and method or personal re-evaluation. One can settle upon their desire and work towards it using logic and method. Or, one can re-evaluate themselves, settling happiness on something one already has.
Highlight 3: Happiness can be absolutely anything, thus it can be fixed or changing. Happiness can depend on contentment or chaos.
Highlight 4: Happiness can be achieved through positive or negative action, once more, a subjective desire or lack thereof.
My ‘Perfect’ Sentence
“The pursuit of happiness, like the pursuit of perfection, is wonderfully never-ending.”
- Matthew Terence Dewey
From the highlights of my discussion, seeking similarities amongst them, I found something else. Happiness is not too different from perfection. Stating something is perfect is like changing one's idea of happiness to something one already has. Be it physical, mental or spiritual, I still firmly believe perfection should be unattainable.
With that in mind, it is not so for many others. Some could settle on something being perfect, the same way they can settle on being content. Yet, finding these similarities, I find that the pursuit is what is most important and not the end-goal.
Thus, my ‘perfect’ sentence is not perfect for me and yet it may be for someone else. Perhaps, the perfect sentence to someone is something as simple as, 'It makes for a fine discussion', which even I can admire.
The perfect sentence, like the perfect novel, has yet to be written from my perspective. Yet, pursuing such perfection is my ideal on the subject. Perhaps it is to you as well or perhaps not. Yet, the conclusion I derived this experiment is satisfying for me.
If it is not for you, then taking it upon yourself to find ‘perfection’ only emphasises my belief. Yet, if you reach the end goal, I hope to read your book one day.
“I have not written a perfect sentence, in the literary sense. It’s a lot easier to throw a perfect pass than to write a perfect sentence, if that sentence is meant to perform more than a mechanical function.”
- Greg Iles
Thank you for finishing this article. I had a lot of fun writing it and I hope you truly enjoyed it. There are many things you will learn from the writing experience and the 150 above are only a few.
As a big thank you I would like to offer you something for FREE!
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Thank you very much for reading!
Matthew Dewey, Writer
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