Many of us were inspired and moved by Elizabeth Partridge’s talk in July. One of the wonderful things that stayed with me was the way Partridge searches for a sentence that expresses the theme of each non-fiction book that she writes. When that sentence comes to her, she writes it on a Post-it note and sticks it up on her computer.

I wondered if I could I do the same thing with a novel. It’s always a struggle to uncover a novel’s emotional line; to define the energy that pushes the story forward. That emotional line is like the drone on a bagpipe, humming beneath every scene or, as Lisa described it once, it’s the strong thread that holds a string of pearls together. Could I express that theme or connecting thread in a single sentence?

In the novel I’m working on now, my character, Brandon, has learned some shocking truths that his father hid from those he loved. When his dad dies suddenly, Brandon searches for the father he never knew. Today, I wrote up a conversation between Brandon and his aunt, in which Brandon learns that his dad loved the Lone Ranger when he was a kid. And there was my sentence: “Who was that masked man, anyway?”

The sentence is silly and will probably change as I revise again and again. But finding it was a good exercise and it helped me to see what scenes should come next. So try it. Can you come up with a Partridge Sentence for your own short story/novel/poetry collection/critical thesis? Stick the sentence to your computer; tack it to the wall. Let us know what happens.