Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Weekly writing coach: Punctuate with sentences

Too often, writers get into a single cadence, a pattern or habit that leads to longer compound sentences that run in packs. If taken out of the paragraph and laid side-by-side, the sentences would wind up at about the same length and rhythm. Fortunately, the antidote that works best is punctuation, but not the punctuation you may be thinking of.  Instead of question marks and periods, consider structuring your sentences within a paragraph so they serve as the punctuation.  If you focus during the editing phase, you can correct run-on and similar-length sentences and insert shorter or medium-length options.

Gosh, that was painful.  But that paragraph was written to demonstrate what I don't want you to do.  Here's how those sentences look side-by-side, by the way:

Too often, writers get into a single cadence, a pattern or habit that leads to longer compound sentences that run in packs.

If taken out of the paragraph and laid side-by-side, the sentences would wind up at about the same length and rhythm.

Fortunately, the antidote that works best is punctuation, but not the punctuation you may be thinking of.

Instead of question marks and periods, consider structuring your sentences within a paragraph so they serve as the punctuation.

If you focus during the editing phase, you can correct run-on and similar-length sentences and insert shorter or medium-length options.

Amazing: Each sentence is 19-24 words long, and that was without trying, which means you can make this mistake in your sleep.  Let's try a rewrite that varies sentence length and uses that tactic to punctuate the paragraph -- and drive the reader at the pace you really want:

Too often, writers get into a rut. A single cadence. A pattern. A habit.  The result: longer compound sentences that run in packs. You're likely not aware of it. Take the sentences out of the paragraph and lay them side-by-side. Do they wind up at about the same length? Read them aloud to compare rhythm.  Then structure your sentences so they serve as the punctuation in each paragraph.  You can correct run-on and similar-length sentences while you edit; just insert shorter or medium-length options to break the paragraph up.

That's my quick edit. What would you do to punctuate that graph with varied sentence lengths?

Related posts:  Weekly writing coach: Length variations

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