Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

Unfolding Sentences

Alexis Teevens '13 and Prof. Willard

When you think about how sentences work together, writing becomes a lot more complicated. People often think about paragraphs; you need them to develop your thesis. But who thinks on that level about sentences? According to American Studies Professor Carla Willard, everyone should.

Professor Willard uses an “unfolding” analogy to add more imagery to her lesson. To me, sentences have always felt very static. You need a capital letter, some words in the middle, and probably a period. Done. The unfolding idea, however, makes crafting sentences borderline exciting.

Unfolding sentences is work. It forces me to consider the idea encased in each individual phrase and how I want to push that idea forward. As Professor Willard explains, unfolding is a “loosening together” of the ideas of a previous sentence in order to move things along.

Loosening together? That phrase made me scrunch my eyebrows and roll my eyes at the same time. Which is quite an accomplishment. Seriously, try it. It’s hard. But anyway, loosening together is actually one of the coolest writing concepts I’ve ever come across. When you loosen the previous sentence, you make the meaning clearer for your readers. You untangle some of the knots and make life easier for them. And by loosening the previous sentence, you link your new sentence to the ones that came before it; they come together. When all your sentences come together, life just improves.

Professor Willard’s analogy provides some logic and structure to the writing process. It doesn’t make it easier; it actually forces you to think more. But using the unfolding process is so satisfying. When you can really link each and every one of your sentences together, it feels like you’ve accomplished something more than reaching the word limit. And that’s a pretty good feeling.

  • Profile: Dr. Carla Willard
  • Alexis Teevens