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Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  594 ratings  ·  84 reviews
Based on the bestselling series from The Great Courses, Building Great Sentences celebrates the sheer joy of language—and will forever change the way you read and write.

Great writing begins with the sentence. Whether it’s two words (“Jesus wept.”) or William Faulkner’s 1,287-word sentence in Absalom! Absalom!, sentences have the power to captivate, entertain, motivate, e
Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 25th 2013 by Plume (first published 2013)
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Sep 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: asyndetonics, alliteratists, epanalepsisists, symplocians, tricolonists
To put it another way, propositions are the atoms from which the molecule of the sentence is constructed.

So here I go reading another one of those "How to write" books. Except this one was different, and before I get into the gritty-nitty of it, I'd like to talk about prose. Specifically, prose style. Because that is what Brooks Landon is really talking about when he talks about sentences.

Those of us who read a lot, and especially those of us who assay/aspire/pretend to be writers ourselves, pro
Jason Koivu
Mar 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
Indispensable! Once you've built your foundation on solid stuff like Strunk and White's The Element of Style and put in a good deal of practice when you first start up, then Building Great Sentences is your next step.

This lecture lays down a comprehendible road map for proper structure that flows like a German sports car winding along the autobahn. Before you know it, you'll be constructing high-flying sentences as amazingly acrobatic as a Cirque du Soleil act.

Just be careful you don't go too f
April Satanek
Feb 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: writers
Alternate title for the book: Why I Inordinately Love Long Sentences and Why You Should Too. 

Summary: This book could be 1/3 less in length and be as effective, if not more. One could say the same for this book review.  

I relish an opportunity to learn more about the writing craft, since I carry with every piece I write, no formal writing instruction beyond basic college English classes. So this book came as a welcome gift. 

I read the first three chapters twice in order to get the most informati
Jul 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: work
Ideal for a sentence. Could use examples from more modern (more non-male) writers too.
Richard Gilbert
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Brooks Landon's belief in long sentences goes against decades of teaching and advice. The dominant plain style prizes simplicity and clarity over elegance and eloquence. But Landon favors elaboration, and one type of long sentence—the cumulative, a detail-packed propulsive structure that enhances delivery of information, emotion, and rhythm. Such a sentence might impel you to savor it, or to stop and marvel at its maker’s skill.

Because cumulatives begin with a simple base sentence, they’re easy
Jul 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Dr. Landon brings things to mind about the construction of a sentence that I had never considered before. I am very interested in writing and have done a bit of amateur writing myself. It is something I would like to do more of in the future, and having read this book, I now believe I have a better chance at being good at it.

Dr. Landon is funny and serious, having a great way about him that holds the attention, which allows the learning to take place. This book is certainly no
Jun 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
This course does not lend itself very well to a strict lecture format, practical application would be better. This is also a creative writing course and has relatively little application to legal writing the genre where my writing resides. The course was not clear on its scope before I purchased it.
May 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I wished I had read this a long time ago. This is a terrific exploration of different sentence structures that is beyond grammar. It gives me a greater insight into how literary greats create flow and mood in their stories. I have to go back and reread this again.
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Every once in awhile when I read, I come across a sentence so well crafted, so evocative, so moving, that I just have to stop and re-read it to let the words roll over my tongue and through my mind again. Certain sentences are just a joy to the eye and a treat for the ear. This love of sentences led me to ask: What makes a good sentence, and can I learn to write such a sentence?

I still don't know the answer to that question, but after this course I have a better idea of what makes a sentence me
Abdul Rafay
Feb 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It is a thorough and engaging course that is as good for a beginner as-is for an expert. Unlike most style guides, it teaches you to write long sentences by adopting cumulative syntax.
Using verbal phrases, we can structure our sentences such that they move both in space and time. Building it block by block, explaining the ideas in a sequence, like an artist fine-tuning his strokes, our sentence becomes more powerful and engaging.
This high-prose does not go well with many contemporary writers, m
Aug 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Professor Brooks Landon urges writers to create more elegant and stylish sentences in this book by adding free modifiers, and he provides several wonderful examples from great novelists, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, and even Earnest Hemingway. Professor Landon also discusses the use of literary techniques, such as simile, metaphor and alliteration. He especially wants writers to improve their style, and he suggests many ways in which to do this.

He provides lots of helpful exerc
Joel Gun
Aug 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book allows a writer, or an admirer of the written word, to appreciate the intricacies of the sentence. I'm glad I stumbled upon this book, because it's helped to revived my appreciation for the craft of writing. It's easy to get trapped into a little box sometimes. Books like this serve to remind that there is a universe of limitless knowledge when it comes to writing. Most of us can only attempt to scratch the surface. I like that. For me, as a writer, that's what gives life adventure. ...more
Dec 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
A good book. I did skim some of the more technical parts sometimes, but also learned some great new terms to help anchor my writing. I love the idea of cumulative sentences. They add breath to the clay, life to the limp, and color to the dull. So many minimalist writers could use a bit more accumulation of thought. You know, meat on them barely verbal bones.
Most modern writers need some sort of soul as well. Cumulative sentences may not be enough salvation for them.
Justin Rose
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Although I've read hundreds of books, composed scores of book reports in college and grad school, and studied about becoming a better speaker and reader, I've learned relatively little about mastering the skill of writing. Landon, a college English professor, has changed my pragmatic writing style of short, punctual sentences, by convincing me to compose longer, yet grammatically correct sentences which become a pleasure to read and understand. ...more
Jul 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who wants to learn the tools of a writer.
This will make you a better wordsmith.

Note: I'm basing this off the audio version of "Building Great Sentences" (which was a treat to listen to, Landon is very engaging).

What it is: Building Great Sentences is simply fantastic. It is laser focused on just sentence structure, beautiful sentence structure, sentence structure that makes you swoon. You'll learn ways to make big, beautiful sentences, loose sentences, balanced sentences. You'll also learn a variety of tools for adding your detail to s
Bob Nichols
Sep 28, 2009 rated it it was ok
This course challenges some widely accepted advice (e.g., Strunk and White) that short sentences stripped of chaff are the key to good writing. Landon says that approach removes richness and personality from prose. Rather, Landon advocates the enrichment of writing by adding modifiers and strings of modifiers to the base clause and kernal sentence. Landon states that very, very long master sentences even have a place. Along the way, he adds other suggestions to help the writer, e.g., rythmic wri ...more
Jay Alexander Bostwick
Jun 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing, favorites
Landon explores a topic that is often overlooked in writing instruction: the craft of building sentences. The last time I remember discussing sentences specifically in a formal writing course was in seventh grade, and there our attention was mainly on diagramming sentences rather than composing and refining them. For writers and non writers alike, it's as if sentences are part of the air we breathe, so abundant and commonplace that we hardly pay them any attention, despite how essential they are ...more
Aug 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Building Great Sentences - Brooks Landon

This book's author is a sentence junkie. He loves to write them, to absorb them, to adorn them, to use them. He tried to restrain himself from his vice in this delicious book, but I think he failed. He created a deliciously written piece of art on how to compost beautiful and solid building blocks for our own creations. It is a reference book, I think.

Picture of the cover of the book I read

Picture of the table of contents of the book I read

If you feel like seeing more books, you are welcome to visit my blog:
Aatif Rashid
Jul 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I've read a lot of craft books on the art writing, and this is one of the best, because it focuses ultimately on the actual things that writing is made of: sentences. Forget plot, character, setting, etc., all those abstract ideas about what makes writing great--at its core, great writing is about the prose. This book looks at different kinds of sentences, chief among them the cumulative sentences, and explores their effects, with plenty of great examples, like this one below:

"Her face was sad a
Oct 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Building Great Sentences was an interesting read, but given the movement is away from long sentences and toward shorter sentences Brooks Landon appears to be swimming against the tide.

The approach of building sentences from propositions instead of words is interesting, but his obsession with larger sentences doesn't really fit in with the post-Twitter age.

Recommended for those interested in how to build elegant and eloquent larger sentences. A little dry in parts, as should be expected from th
Washington Post
Jul 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Landon’s earnest primer hews to the more-is-more approach to composition, in which a basic declarative sentence is merely a platform for an entire superstructure of subclauses and qualifying phrases. This works well for William Gass or Thomas Berger — two writers Landon idolizes — but seems potentially hazardous in the hands of lesser mortals. Landon admits that “everyone who writes about prose style advances a particular view of it.” Read the rest: ...more
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A wealth of fascinating information can be found inside this book. Quirky, interesting and, unfortunately, at times a wee on the dry side, it is nevertheless, a must read for anyone who is interested in the mechanics of prose. This book will be one that I continuously turn to over the years.

There's a ton of referenced books and essays within this book that I will have to find time to read, so it works as a wonderful resource for further learning.
Mar 21, 2016 rated it liked it
I really like the idea of teaching cumulative sentences. I think this is a great idea. If the book were about half its current length, it could be a classic. I wish the author would edit it down to half, so this book's idea could get the attention it deserves. ...more
Mario Russo
Nov 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing, ttc
I wasn't sure of what I was going to find but I must to admit that it was much more fun than expected. Professor Brooks is on the top of his game and knows deeply the subject. Recommended. ...more
Jun 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I feel like I should have been taught this in high school AP English. At least in college.
Bernie Gourley
Dec 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book goes along with a video course of the same name from “The Great Courses,” but it can be obtained independently as well.

Landon’s book is one of the most beneficial writing books that I’ve read, and is the most beneficial one about sentence-level composition. The book’s core premise is that crafting richer, more interesting, and more artful sentences requires the ability build longer sentences. This doesn’t mean there is no room for short and simple sentences. It simply means that if a
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Brooks Landon's book "Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read" is a spectacle of writing style, a pleasure for your eyes. Brooks makes sure to use his own advice, crafting a great composition of short and long sentences, which despite their length are always easy to understand, using his proposed constructs in myriads of ways, e.g. parallelisms, suspenseful sentences, and by that illustrating the power of his proposed craftsmanship. Not only is his own writ ...more
Nov 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: aspiring authors
If you have the DVD, then we're talking 5 stars. This guidebook that accompanies the DVD, while complete, lacks Landon's delivery and many examples that he presents in the lecture. It's like the "Cliff Notes" version of the lectures. Let me put it another way: The lectures have been boiled down, and this guidebook is the precipitate. While it covers the essential nuggets and provides what you need to know, it doesn't deliver the goods in the same way as Landon's lectures.

Landon opened my eyes to
Scott Wozniak
Aug 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
This might be better titled, The beauty and structure of complex sentences. He opens with an acknowledgement of the beauty of some very short, simple sentences. But then says that what he wants to teach is how to write the long, complex sentences. He makes a strong case that just because there are many examples of terrible, run on sentences doesn't mean that longer is worse. And then, with examples and techniques, he proves his point.

I confess that until reading this book, I had assumed shorter
Gwenyth Robicheaux
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I don't actually have the book. I listened to Brooks Landon's series of lectures, "The Great Courses: Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer's Craft" all the way through twice, but I couldn't find it here on Goodreads, so this is the closest thing. Now I'm about to start again from the beginning and take notes. I'm serious about becoming a writer and I know that I will be using what I've learned from this course quite a bit in my final drafts. I also hope to develop a habit of writing th ...more
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“The principle is this: When you write, you make a point not by subtracting as though you sharpened a pencil, but by adding. When you put one word after another, your statement should be more precise the more you add. If the result is otherwise, you have added the wrong thing, or you have added more than was needed. Erskine” 0 likes
“An assumption exists that long sentences are bad, but it is usually the case that bad sentences are long.” 0 likes
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