Looking to expand your writing style in a rather painless way? Ann Longknife and K.D. Sullivan’s “The Art of Styling Sentences” may be exactly what you need. This book is based on the belief that people learn to improve their writing “by imitating the examples of those who have that skill” (vi). Because of this belief, the core of this book is Chapter 2, which consists of 20 different sentence patterns for imitation. For each of these patterns, the author provides an explanation, examples, practice exercises, and advice about when to use them. Some of the patterns also come with “variations”: subtle changes to the pattern that don’t, in the eyes of the authors, meet the criteria for a completely separate pattern.
But the book doesn’t stop there. It also includes an opening chapter that explains different parts of a sentence while also providing some helpful references. Chapters 3 and 4 also discuss the uses of figurative language as well as some discussion about expanding and combining these new patterns. The book is rounded out with professional examples of the 20 patterns “at work” in published writing, as well as several appendices that answer possible questions the reader might have and provide a brief overview of punctuation and its importance.
The book seems to have targeted the world of academia, since it opens with “suggestions for the instructor” and “suggestions for the student.” However, the chapters themselves suffer from no such preference; I’ve used them myself on occasion as a writer as well as a teacher. The sentences are presented in a simple, clear manner, and while the grammatical issues are addressed for those interested, the text never becomes bogged down in it, either. So there is a lot of information that the reader can draw from as much or as little as he or she pleases. After all, the book is designed to help your sentence structure, not to turn you into a grammarian.
Of course, the big question with all of this is “does it work?” Will your sentences become more robust if you use this book? Well, “The Art of Styling Sentences,” from what I can see, doesn’t really draw off of significant research (at least, not much made it into the book itself). It made a passing reference to sentence combining, which is sort of like what they do in the book. Sentence combining has been shown to be statistically significant in increasing the syntactic maturity of sentences. At least three reviews or meta-analyses over the past 40-plus years (J. Stephen Sherwin, 1969; George Hillocks, 1986, and Steve Graham and Dolores Perin, 2007) have described this consistency.
So, if you’re looking for a way to explore the options of your sentence style, “The Art of Styling Sentences” might be a good place to start. It can get deep or it can stay simplistic, depending on your needs and interests. I always prize tools that are helpful without being overly prescriptive, and I think that this hits the mark pretty well.