“Graveyards are notorious for being a place full of death.”

Just to follow up on yesterday’s tombstone post.

Here is a sentence that reeks of opening-sentence-of-my-essay or at least opening-sentence-of-my-paragraph. It has that sonorous quality students often reach for when they get ready to write.

I will try to ignore the number disagreement between “graveyards” and “a place.” I will also try to ignore the word “notorious,” which student writers don’t necessarily consider a pejorative term—although this writer probably did intend to introduce a negative, gloomy note.

What really interests me is the relatively long road he takes to get to a destination so close as to be the same spot he began. If graveyards aren’t “full of death,” what is? The sentence is self-defining, unless the writer’s point is the “notorious” part. But since the sentence came from an essay about the grave-robbing restorer of Tiffany windows, I don’t think the reputation of graveyards was his point. What we have here is just an Opening Sentence.

The student wants to say something important, to express the mood or the topic’s urgency or the writer’s seriousness. For that, I have sympathy; and that’s the reason I don’t write “Empty sentence” or “What the hell do you think you’re telling me?????” in the margin, or even “Point?” I just indicate the number disagreement, write “wordy,” and make a mental note to spend some time on opening sentences in the next class session.

And then I read the sentence again and laugh till I cry.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

4 responses to ““Graveyards are notorious for being a place full of death.”

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