Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyed it immensely I am giving this course a hearty two thumbs up. There are a few things that really surprised me about this offering. My reason for selecting the subject was the mundane one of improving my writing, and I was approaching it like taking a much needed dose of medicine. I was surprised how I enjoyed it. There are several reasons for this, but the big one is that Professor Landon is an extraordinary instructor with much enthusiasm for his subject. I should not have been surprised as I have degrees in science and technology, but I was a bit astounded on how much research there has been over the centuries on sentence structure and rhetoric. I had no idea there was so much literature on the subject Professor Landon advocating longer, more complex sentences was a bit of an eye opener for me as I have had pounded into me that the best writing is concise and to the point; don’t belabor the reader, not a bad thing for memos and technical writings. However, that attitude has carried over into all my writing. Even if you do not do a lot of writing, this course will enhance your reading appreciation. Obviously, I am recommending it.
Date published: 2021-03-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent advice and food for thought for writers I'm writing a novel and have focused most of my self taught exploration of craft on story-telling and scene construction, character creation and world building. I didn't think I needed to learn about something as basic as the sentence. I took this class because it was on special offer - no big investment. I'm so glad I did. It reminded me that writing is dancing with words. As Professor Landon says - the sentence is the basic unit of writing that we can most easily control and improve. Who wouldn't want to do that?
Date published: 2021-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Made me a more conscientious writer I guess the best compliment I can give is that this course has made me more aware of my own writing and that of others. On the other hand, it has unfortunately also made me more aware of how much poor writing I encounter. In any case, Professor Landon was an excellent teacher and this course motivated me to become a more focused reader and writer.
Date published: 2021-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Difference Maker Our preconceptions about a subject often shape how much we are able to learn from it, how relevant the subject is to our daily lives, how easily it can be learned, how intrinsically interesting we find it. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that before viewing this course I thought that sentence composition was somewhat relevant to my daily life, didn't expect to learn much, and thought that sentences could be a mildly interesting topic. I was mistaken. Professor Landon, although clearly well-versed in the theoretical underpinnings of language, puts an emphasis on how to apply the theory to immediately improve not only how clearly your thoughts are communicated, but also the emotional response that your "style" evokes in the reader. The time you spend learning from him will be time well spent.
Date published: 2021-01-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from He likes bad sentences My guess is that Brooks Landon studied ancient Latin or Greek, because the kind of sentences he thinks are "great" are the kinds of excessively long sentences, with modifier stacked upon modifier, that were considered good in those days. See Colossians 1:3-8, or Ephesians 1:3-14, which are both all one sentence in the Greek, for an example. Don't write this way.
Date published: 2021-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best of the Great Courses! I go back to this time and again for more detail and help. Great exploration on building great sentences. Anyone who writes or seeks to write, this is a course for you
Date published: 2020-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Functional writing course — superbly useful I’m a PR Manager and just a lover of writing. This is one of my favorite courses because it’s so useful for me professionally and personally. This is certainly not just a course to listen to while driving or lounging around. To get the most value out of this course, you have to really set some time to the side and dedicate yourself to some immersive study, getting the transcript of the course too. If you can master coordinate cumulative syntax, your writing will improve leaps and bounds. I highly recommend this course!
Date published: 2020-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This has changed my writing! I am a novelist and am always searching to improve my writing. I have seven novels in the proverbial drawer. I’m aware that something has been missing in my writing. Critique groups were useful for taking things out, but never on advising about how to add information in. I need to add more description in – to engage all the senses, to make the writing flow better, to make setting more of a character (yes, even in genre fiction this is necessary). Yet, how could I do that when the majority of writing advice is minimalist in its approach? English is not my second language, and I thought that was the source of my seeming awkwardness with phrasing and description, as the constructs in the English language don’t always mesh with how my brain works. Then, I discovered this course. What an amazing eye-opener! I now have another tool to make imagery more vivid, to convey ideas, to make setting and character more engaging. An additional bonus is that I better appreciate what some term as ‘literary’ writing, and it’s taught me to have a more critical, yet appreciative, eye for how all writers write. I wish I had had a course like this when I studied Literature in university. This course has given me one more tool to use as a writer. I’m so grateful that Professor Landon explained it so well and that he provided so many examples. It’s been a lot of work and a lot of learning but that’s what made it worth my while. Thank you!
Date published: 2020-11-18
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Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft
Course Trailer
A Sequence of Words
1: 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
2: 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
3: 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
4: 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
5: 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
6: 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
7: 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
8: 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
9: 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
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 Texas at Austin


The University of Iowa

About Brooks Landon

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.

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