The Immortality of One True Sentence

English Author Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) wrote, “Love is a friendship set on fire.”

Jeremy Taylor is remembered for quotes like the one above more than his body of writing as a whole, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. Living during the restoration, art was revived under the restored monarchy, and his exceptional prose gained recognition, but it seems that one-line quotes are what are really appreciated and evoked, even 300+ years later.

English: Hemingway posing for a dust jacket ph...Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) wrote in A Moveable Feast, “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.”

I think a quote like, “Love is a friendship set on fire,” is what Hemingway was referring to as one true sentence. It’s a sentence that speaks volumes in a few words, and as anyone who has been in love will attest, it is absolutely true. Beyond that, it also provokes meditation on the subject and is open to interpretation. It meets the criteria for good writing:

  • True sentences
  • Creative and thoughtful
  • Show, don’t tell
  • Avoid passive voice (strong active verbs)
  • Specific details
    • Concrete objects and places
    • Sense words
    • Metaphors and word pictures
  • No unnecessary or weak words (cut away, tighten)
  • Correctness (grammar and editing)

These are basic rules of writing; they endure and work, and you only do yourself a disservice by ignoring them. But still, why bother writing something memorable?

I’ll summarize a great story Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) tells about why he started writing from the Afterward of Something Wicked This Way Comes.

A photograph of science fiction author Ray Bra...It was 1932, and Ray Bradbury was twelve years old. He had just seen Mr. Electro survive electrocution in an electric chair at a carnival side show. After the show, Mr. Electro tapped young Bradbury on shoulder and said, “Live forever!”

He decided that living forever was the greatest idea he had ever heard. That’s when he started writing every day and never stopped.

And that’s it, isn’t it? That’s at least part of why we write. We want to be remembered, even after we are gone. And to write something worth remembering, it must be profound. Even if it is only one true sentence.

Ray Bradbury wrote in Zen and the Art of Writing:

“Go children. Run and read. Read and run. Show and tell. Spin another pyramid on its nose. Turn another world upside down. Knock the soot off my brain. Repaint the Sistine Chapel inside my skull. Laugh and think. Dream and learn and build.”

And so, we run, dream, learn and build. We write, and maybe, we will live forever.

© 2012 Mitch Lavender

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