...[a] humane and witty guide ... Moran is a professor of English at Liverpool John Moores University; he sounds like a drolly exacting teacher. Like most authors who wish to make writers of their readers, he spends part of his lesson telling us what not to do ... But Moran’s advice is chiefly positive. He is especially good on rhythm, syntax and structure ... At the calm heart of Moran’s rhetorically affable book is an idea of adroit aplomb. He thinks a sentence should slide down the gullet like a clam, hardly touching the sides. His own prose is much like this ... As a primer in generous and lively writing, First You Write a Sentence is blithe and convincing. But it’s possible to care too much for order, cool and elegance, to overpraise the magician’s sleight of hand and miss the trick itself. Moran doesn’t care for verbal or syntactic acrobatics, for writing that draws attention to itself. But isn’t extravagance sometimes itself the message? Don’t we long for some friction, some grit in the oyster?
[Moran] does not want to call his book a style guide, a genre he associates with 'prescriptions and proscriptions'. It is, rather, 'a style guide by stealth', 'a love letter to the sentence'. It offers us bracing – and often sententious – sentences ... He also tells us what not to like. He eloquently laments the rise and rise of 'the argot of modern managerialism', with its 'nouny sentences' As an academic, he feelingly deplores the bad habits of academic prose, with its conjunctive adverbs ('Moreover ...' , 'However ... ') and its twitchy meta-comment ('I will argue that ...'). Yet he equally knows that less is not always best. In a brisk chapter...he unpicks the doctrinaire plainness of Ernest Gowers and George Orwell. He even advocates the expressive subtlety of the subjunctive. Moran is a thoroughly sane, thoughtful commentator. It took me a long time to find something to disagree with in his book...
First You Write a Sentence is an often impassioned attempt to get us to take sentences seriously ... Sentences are everywhere, formed without much attention and used without much thought, but Moran wants to encourage an alertness to their construction.
Some of the book’s most compelling sections seem indeed to be about this very thing: not about nouns and verbs, or monosyllables and vowel sounds, but about care. Moran is advocating attentiveness, deliberateness, absorbedness, slow and studied craft, pushing against ‘the glib articulacy of a distracted age’ ... There’s plenty in Moran’s book to delight grammar and language nerds, too, of course. He argues eloquently for fresh metaphors, and for monosyllables ... He rhapsodises on the pleasures of a long sentence expertly unspooled.