Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft

Explore how to improve your writing by mastering the art of the sentence in this comprehensive course taught by an award-winning professor.
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Investigate the myriad ways we think about, talk about, and write sentences. In Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft, Professor Brooks Landon from the University of Iowa-one of the nation's top writing schools-shows you the pleasure in reading and writing great sentences. Explore the stylistic rewards (and risks) of various sentence forms, learn how to build and appreciate effective and elegant sentences, get unique insights into the nature of great writing-and discover how you can achieve some of this greatness yourself.


Brooks Landon
Brooks Landon

This is a course in which we will dance with language, not a course in which we will trudge toward remedial correctness.


The University of Iowa

Dr. Brooks Landon is Herman J. and Eileen S. Schmidt Professor of English and Collegiate Fellow at The University of Iowa and Director of the university's General Education Literature Program. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin. Since 1978, Professor Landon has regularly offered a prose-style course focused on the sentence. He has also taught courses in nonfiction writing, contemporary American fiction, 20th-century American literature and culture, modern fiction, science fiction, hypertext fiction and scholarship, and electronic textuality. Published widely in the fields of contemporary American literature and science fiction, Professor Landon is the author of numerous books, including Science Fiction After 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars; The Aesthetics of Ambivalence: Rethinking Science Fiction in the Age of Electronic (Re)Production; and Thomas Berger. Among his many awards and accolades are a University of Iowa M. L. Huit Teaching Award and an International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts Distinguished Scholarship.

By This Professor

Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft
Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft


A Sequence of Words

01: A Sequence of Words

Building great sentences depends on more than just stringing words together. This lecture explores the definition of a sentence and introduces several assumptions on which the course rests, such as that a greater control of syntax is one of the most direct routes to improving writing....

34 min
Grammar and Rhetoric

02: Grammar and Rhetoric

Examine some of the key terminology used throughout the course and focus on learning how sentences work (their rhetoric) instead of merely labeling their constituent parts (their grammar)....

30 min
Propositions and Meaning

03: Propositions and Meaning

A sentence may contain more propositions than are visible in the grammar and syntax of its surface language. Discover how the facts, ideas, and feelings in a sentence lie beneath its words and organization....

30 min
How Sentences Grow

04: How Sentences Grow

Adding propositional content to a kernel sentence ("They slept.") moves sentences forward and enriches their meaning. Here are three types of strategies that give sentences more momentum and depth: the connective, the subordinative, and the adjectival....

30 min
Adjectival Steps

05: Adjectival Steps

Professor Landon makes the case for using adjectival strategies to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your sentences. Boiling down subordinate clauses to single modifying words allows you to pack more information into each sentence....

29 min
The Rhythm of Cumulative Syntax

06: The Rhythm of Cumulative Syntax

Cumulative sentences lend themselves to writing moves that almost guarantee more effective sentences. Learn how these easy-to-write sentences take you through increasingly specific sentence levels and how they clarify and embellish preceding phrases....

31 min
Direction of Modification

07: Direction of Modification

Cumulative sentences also employ modifying words and phrases before, between, or at the end of base clauses. Investigate the benefits and potential risks of each of these placement options on the meaning of your sentences....

32 min
Coordinate, Subordinate, and Mixed Patterns

08: Coordinate, Subordinate, and Mixed Patterns

With your newfound understanding of the relationship between base clauses and modifying phrases, you examine the three major patterns of cumulative sentences and their effect on the base clause: coordinate (refining information), subordinate (providing new information), and mixed (combining the previous two patterns)....

33 min
Coordinate Cumulative Sentences

09: Coordinate Cumulative Sentences

This lecture elaborates on coordinate cumulative patterns, which pile up modifying phrases that point back to the base clause. It also emphasizes the importance of listening to how your sentences read as a means of tightening up their logic....

32 min
Subordinate and Mixed Cumulatives

10: Subordinate and Mixed Cumulatives

Continuing the discussion of various cumulative sentence patterns, Professor Landon zeroes in on subordinate and mixed patterns, which offer more variety to sentences by adding specificity or tapping into the strengths of both coordinate and subordinate patterns....

29 min
Prompts of Comparison

11: Prompts of Comparison

Prompts like "as if," "as though," and "like" can prompt writers to look for metaphors, similes, or speculative phrases that add information, clarification, and imaginative appeal to sentences. Learn how writers forge emotional links with their readers by incorporating figurative language into their writing....

31 min
Prompts of Explanation

12: Prompts of Explanation

Prompts can also speculate about the unknown. Examine three major prompts-"because," "perhaps," and "possibly"-to use in your sentences, so you can reveal more of your thinking and strengthen the connection between you and your readers....

31 min
The Riddle of Prose Rhythm

13: The Riddle of Prose Rhythm

Follow along with scholars and critics as they try to study, measure, and explain the mystery of prose rhythm. Learn to better recognize the distinctive rhythms that characterize your sentences by imagining their modifying levels as long or short bits of Morse code....

32 min
Cumulative Syntax to Create Suspense

14: Cumulative Syntax to Create Suspense

Learn to start thinking about sentences as not just "loose" or "periodic" but as possessing degrees of suspense. Base clauses in a cumulative sentence can be moved about or split to increase or decrease the reader's suspense about how the sentence will end....

32 min
Degrees of Suspensiveness

15: Degrees of Suspensiveness

In this lecture, you unpack the periodic/suspensive sentence, which suggests a greater degree of control over its material and, when used effectively, can generate interest by combining complex concepts with syntactical suspense....

31 min
The Mechanics of Delay

16: The Mechanics of Delay

Look closely at four broad tactics to delay completing the base clause, two of which involve the manipulation of modifiers and two of which use initial clauses or phrases as either extended subjects or as modifiers. You also consider a possible fifth tactic that involves using a colon or semicolon....

29 min
Prefab Patterns for Suspense

17: Prefab Patterns for Suspense

Another option for adding suspense to sentences is starting them with certain prompts such as "if" or "since." This lecture illustrates the uses of these and other prompts and considers some reasons for making suspense a critical part of your prose style....

30 min
Balanced Sentences and Balanced Forms

18: Balanced Sentences and Balanced Forms

Perhaps the most intense form of the periodic/suspensive sentence is the balanced sentence. Professor Landon points out that balanced sentences, in drawing their strength from the tension between variation and repetition, offer an advantage to writers comparing two subjects....

30 min
The Rhythm of Twos

19: The Rhythm of Twos

Binary oppositions in balanced sentences lend confidence and conclusiveness to writing. With its mirroring effect, the duple (double-beat) rhythm gives balanced sentences the power to stay lodged in your mind....

30 min
The Rhythm of Threes

20: The Rhythm of Threes

Three-part series bring an extended balance to sentences through the buildup of elements in threes. Delve into the unity, progression, and intensification at the heart of this syntactical form....

30 min
Balanced Series and Serial Balances

21: Balanced Series and Serial Balances

Sentence balance is an extension of the organizational constructs of human consciousness. Explore the prevalence of balanced rhythm in our speech and writing and look at numerous examples of sentence balance....

30 min
Master Sentences

22: Master Sentences

The opposite of the minimal base clause is the master sentence: a very long sentence that can function in remarkably original and controlled ways. While no formula can anticipate the context and purpose of master sentences, you can construct effective ones by combining a number of the strategies from earlier lectures....

30 min
Sentences in Sequence

23: Sentences in Sequence

Move beyond the sentence and on to the impact of several sentences in sequence and see new possibilities of resonance and relationship among their rhythms and structures....

32 min
Sentences and Prose Style

24: Sentences and Prose Style

How do our sentences fit into prose style? In exploring critical approaches to this issue, Professor Landon emphasizes that prose style can be seen as both a problem and a gift passed on from writer to writer....

32 min