The Surprising Sentence: Honing Your Prose Style

with Jessie Roy

the surprising sentence writing course

March 7, 2024
2 Single-Day Webinars


$195.00Enroll Now

What is the basic unit of prose—the book, the story, the chapter?  The paragraph?  Or the sentence?  A sentence can cross oceans of time and space, or occur in the blink of an eye; it can be so long we lose ourselves in it, or a short staccato beat calling us to attention.  The sounds of a sentence can roll off the tongue smooth as a melody, or trip you up and fight you, resisting being read.  And some of my favorite sentences seem to start out on planet Earth, take a twist somewhere along the way, and end up on Mars, leaving you somewhere you never expected to go.

In the first of two workshops for writers of fiction, nonfiction, and prose poetry, we’ll break down and examine some surprising sentences to see what makes them tick, and use what we learn to write our own sentences that take the reader on a journey from beginning to end.  These generative exercises will guide you in controlling the emotional impact of your prose through pacing, sound, and structural elements.  During the following week, your homework assignment will prompt you to identify areas of your own writing projects—in-progress or future—where heightened emotional meaning calls for especially powerful sentences, and try out some new structures and effects to make those sentences land hard.

In our second workshop, we will discuss how to deploy surprising sentences in the context of a larger work like a short story, essay, or novel, and you’ll share your completed writing assignments with one another.  At the end of the course, you’ll walk away with at least several pages of written work, verbal feedback from the instructor and your peers, and a new writing practice for drafting and revising your work at the sentence level.

Learning and Writing Goals

Learning Goals

In this workshop, you will:

  • Discover great sentences from widely varying authors.
  • Consider the relationship between what a sentence says and how it says it.
  • Learn to think about ‘style’ as a practical effect of your own sentence-level choices.
  • Learn how to control pacing, sound, punctuation, and visual shape in your sentences.
  • Learn when and where to deploy a surprising sentence within a larger work of prose.

Writing Goals

And you will write:

  • Several paragraphs of practice sentences in response to generative prompts.
  • 3-5 pages of key sections in a current or future writing project, carefully crafted to use surprising sentences at appropriate moments.

Zoom Schedule

We will meet from 7-9 P.M. U.S. Eastern time on Thursday, March 7th and 14th. 

Workshop Schedule

Day One: 2 hours

15 minutes – Introductions, overview.

20 minutes – Lecture and demonstration of some great sentences.

15 minutes – Group discussion.

20 minutes – First writing exercise, sharing and discussion.

20 minutes – Second writing exercise, sharing and discussion.

30 minutes – Q&A and wrap-up.

Homework: Reading & writing assignment.

Day Two: 2 Hours 

15 minutes – Check-ins & group discussion.

20 minutes – Lecture.

10 minutes – Group discussion.

45 minutes – Sharing and workshopping student assignments.

30 minutes – Q&A and wrap-up.

$195.00Enroll Now

Course type:

Student Feedback for Jessie Roy:

Exactly what I was hoping for—targeted immersion into a specific writer’s tool backed by discussion and in-class exercises. Jesse picked a good slice of a broader topic to focus on for the one-day course and provided excellent exercises to bring her points home. She was friendly and supportive to everyone in the class. Great learning environment! Mimi Zhou

I’ve taken a few courses on in the past and I have to say this has been the best one for me. Jessie’s feedback was detailed and specific, and really gave me insight on how to improve my writing. The group was very engaged and gave solid feedback each week as well. I really believe I’m a better writer thanks to this course. Keith Murphy

Jessie was amazing. I was impressed from the first feedback I received from her. She opened my eyes to the enormity of writing really good fiction while also showing me that its creation is still possible. Angela Scannell

March 7, 2024
2 Single-Day Webinars


$195.00Enroll Now

jessie roy headshot


Jessie Roy is a fiction writer, teacher, and editor whose work has appeared in American Literary ReviewThe Journal, and Cream City Review. She holds two advanced degrees in creative writing: an MFA from Syracuse University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Among many other awards and honors, Jessie has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her novel Brides took second place in the 2020 James Jones First Novel Fellowship. In between teaching and studying creative writing, she has also worked in libraries, archaeological museums, fashion retail, and various parts of the bridal industry. Jessie grew up in Kentucky and now lives in New York City with her spouse. You can find her online at