This course is a compendium of all the actual, useful, factual tools at your disposal for writing beautiful sentences. At no point will I tell you to go read Chekov or Cheever and hope there is some kind of magical transference. At no point will I suggest that beautiful turns of phrase “just come to you” or are the product of “inspiration.” You will be given a comprehensive review of parts of speech and sentence construction so that we are all on the same page terminology-wise, and then I will show you different sentence types that you can try out for yourself. I will teach you fifteen separate rhetorical devices that can be used on the sentence level.
People have been cataloging and describing all the things that can go wrong or right with a sentence for thousands of years. The world of language is as mapped and charted as the stars. And yet, parts of speech, moods of verbs, dependent and independent clause were not taught to me in English class, but in Russian class, Latin class, Italian and German and Anglo-Saxon class. It was only by learning other languages that I began to learn about my own.
And I’m teaching this class to you because that is BARBAROUS AND INSANE. Enough. You are a writer of English, you should understand intimately the animal you are attempting to ride. I honestly don’t believe there is a more loveable, muscular, surprising and ribald language than English in all the world.
You will know things at the end of this course that you did not know before. It will also change the way you read, and you will start noticing specific techniques in the authors you read. It will become clear that the reason Didion sounds like Didion instead of Tom Robbins is that the two of them have very different pet rhetorical devices that they turn to again and again.
The basic structure of the class will be two class periods, each with a lecture you will read before class and an assignment that you will do before class. You are welcome to read fellow students’ assignments, and you should know that your own work will be publicly visible to other students in the class, but I do not require that you provide commentary to each other unless you want to. I will, however, carefully go through each one and let you know when you got it right or when you got it wrong, how the sentences could be written differently, helping to ensure you really nail these tools and they become a working part of your arsenal.
- fluency in fifteen rhetorical devices that can be used on the sentence level
- detailed feedback from the instructor on assignments
- the ability to write more beautiful sentences
- a thorough understanding of the rhetorical devices writers employ to make their prose sing, and the skills to identify those devices in your reading
Rufi Thorpe is the author of The Girls from Corona del Mar, which was long listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, and Dear Fang, With Love, which Publishers Weekly called, “tremendous...an absolute winner.” Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, and The Huffington Post, among others. She writes a bi-monthly humor column, “Listicles For People Exactly Like You," for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. She received her MFA from the University of Virginia, and currently lives in Southern California with her husband and two sons.
"As reader and editor, Rufi is fiercely loyal. I don't mean so much to the writer—though I've known few teachers who are so generous as Rufi. She understands the struggle that goes into getting something into the right words, the persistence (or, as she says, the 'perversity of spirit') that it takes to be a writer, and the feedback that she gives—and I say this from personal experience—somehow manages to be both acutely honest and dangerously encouraging at the same time. Rufi has a keen eye for what's on the page, a honed sense for the unfolding machinery of story, the mechanics of plot and character. But even more, she has a sense of what's not on the page, an understanding not just of the work as written, but the work as it wants to be. And this is truly a special sort of reader and editor, one who sees a piece of writing purely on its own terms, with its own particular vision and integrity. I guess that's what I mean by 'fiercely loyal': not just to the writer, but to the story, becoming just the champion it needs to flourish.”
“Rufi Thorpe has an uncanny ability to sniff out what’s working and not working in any piece of text. In music, some people are said to possess perfect pitch. In the world of perfumery they talk of special “noses” that can discern even the faintest of base notes and overtones in a scent. Neuroscientists at Newcastle University think they might have just found the first documented case of a “tetrachromat” — a person with an extra cone in the eye, enabling her to see a hundred million colors. You get the idea: Rufi Thorpe’s editorial eye and ear is arguably one of the top two or three I’ve ever encountered (and I know a heckuva lot of editors and writers). What separates Rufi as the best, however, is her unequalled ability to then convey what needs to be conveyed back to the author, so that they, too, can discern what she’s noticed, and approach their own work with fresh eyes. That takes a very special kind of creative writing. That’s because Rufi’s a great writer in her own right. And a first-rate college instructor and mentor. And a lover of ideas and of people. She’s full of grace and positive spirit in all she does and, mercy, I’m sure glad I know her and can call her a colleague and friend.”
"Rufi Thorpe is a badass editor, one of these legends a writer of any rank prays to come across. She has an uncanny talent for sharpening sentences, shaping paragraphs, and bringing together the larger structures of a book-length narrative. Her comments are clear, funny and always helpful. If you get the chance to work with her, do it. You’ll become a better writer.”
“One of the finest releases of 2016… Thorpe is a major talent, and reading her work will bring to mind other writers who deftly control their universes with such clarity and acuity, like Donna Tartt or Ann Patchett.”
"Tremendous... Showcase[s] Thorpe’s fabulous versatility, insight, and humor... While the themes of the book--mania, the Holocaust, and the devastating number of ways that any parent-child dynamic can go awry--are undeniably dark, Thorpe’s prose is light, often hilarious, and unshakably grounded in the concrete details of daily life... Thorpe has written an absolute winner."
"A knockout of a debut novel. . . Pugnacious, risk-taking Mia, a child of divorce, grows up envious of Lorrie Ann, with her intact family and her elegant, upturned nose. Then in their junior year of high school, everything changes when a family tragedy strikes, marking “the first tap-tap on Lorrie Ann’s windowpane by those bad luck vultures” . . . Thorpe is too firmly in control to let an abundance of plot points crowd out her narrative’s deeper meanings. Her worldly, rambunctious, feminist, morally interrogative prose style galvanizes every episode with smart, almost cosmic insights, tough talk, elegiac moments of love, dumb wonder, and, of course, further tragic events. . . We can’t help but root for these memorable heroines, and Thorpe’s beautiful twist of an ending is admirably earned."
“Just when you believe the ubiquitous ‘literature is dead’ declarations are true, there comes a novel like THE GIRLS FROM CORONA DEL MAR…It’s hard to believe that THE GIRLS FROM CORONA DEL MAR is Rufi Thorpe’s first novel — she writes like someone who has been through the wringer, like writers of the past who wrote because they needed to, because they had a problem with the way life was and had to tell someone. THE GIRLS FROM CORONA DEL MAR belongs in a different era, like something that could have been written during the days of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. It’s about two people, who despite the promises that life once held for them, continue on, for better and for worse, to try and capture a dream.”