Monday, May 08, 2006

Style Summary 8

Lesson 8: Shape

I think William's opening sentence nicely summarizes the chapter: "If you can't write a clear sentence longer than 20 words or so, you're like a composer who can write only jingles." (22 words) This chapter is concerned with the formation of longer sentences. While previous chapters advised the editing-down of sentences for the sake of clarity, Lesson 8 details how to craft elaborate sentences without the loss of clarity or meaning. After all, not every complex idea can be communicated in short sentences. The short version of this process is to revise abstractions into character/subjects and action/verbs into sentences that are long, but do not sprawl.

The long of it is a process of diagnosis and revision. In diagnosing a passage, put a slash after every period and question-mark, then pick out sentences that last longer than two lines. When read aloud, if that sentence takes more than a breath to say, then it is in need of revision. The shapeless length of many a long sentences can be identified by several factors: 1.) It takes them too long to get to the verb in the main clause. 2.) After the verb, the reader has to slog through a shapeless sprawl of tacked-on subordinate clauses 3.) The reader hesitates at one interruption after another. In order to revise such long openings, there are two rules of thumb: 1.) Get to the subject of the main clause quickly--one must avoid beginning a single sentence with many clauses. 2.) Get tot he verb and object of the main clause quickly.

In order to reshape the sentence, one must cut such filler structures as "who/that/which + is/was". From then on, one must change clause to modifying phrases, such as resumptive modifiers, summative modifiers, and free modifiers. Also, one must Coordinate tacked-on clauses rather than multiple coordinates.

The long sentence can be identified by their faulty coordination, unclear connections, and misplaced modifiers. When in doubt, Williams suggests, trust your judgement.

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