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:~: Thursday, July 12, 2007 :~:

Craft: Patterns of Cumulative Sentences

I love cumulative sentences. They're a great way to take a "telling" sentence and add some "show."

The following content is from the writing resources I use when teaching Writers Workshop at the high school level. I think it's from America's Choice, but I'm not sure. Anyway . . .

Look at the pattern these sentences have in common:

1) He lay for a quarter of an hour without thinking, lips parted, legs and arms extended, breathing quietly as he gazed at the figures in the wallpaper until they were hidded in darkness. -- Saul Bellow

2) One remembers them from another time -- playing handball in the playground, going to church, wondering if they were going to be promoted at school. -- James Baldwin

3) I sensed a wrongness around me, like an alarm clock that had gone off without being set. -- Maya Angelou

4) A moment later she was swimming back to the side of the pool, her head of short-clipped auburn hair held up straight ahead of her, as though it were a rose on a long stem. -- Phillip Roth

5) His hands were huge and brown from the sun, with white hairs matting on the backs of his fingers. -- Helen Norris

6) Her hair was slicked against her head with a bun in the back, a proper married-lady hairdo. -- Maxine Hong Kingston

7) He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed mustache, hair turning silver at the temples, and eyes so black they were like tinted windows of a sleek limousine -- he could see out, but you couldn't see in. -- John Berendt

If you'll notice each sentence begins with a "telling part" and then adds details (sensory, descriptive or figurative -- love the simile in Angelou's example) to "show." It's a nice way to vary your sentence structure, too.

One way I have my students use this as a sentence-level revision strategy is to have them go through and pinpoint sentences that are "telling" and which could have "showing" details added. Once they find these, they take the telling sentences and rewrite them into cumulative sentences. It adds richness to their writing every time.



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