There is nothing more that The Study Dude wants for you than to get your head out of the gutter. Climax and size applies here to writing sentences, not to digging your climber’s nuts into a giant nose on Mount Rushmore.
Well, in these articles, as The Study Dude, I’ll try to give you the study tips you need to help make your learning easier. I’ll also give you straight and honest opinions and personal anecdotes?even the embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t ever dare read about from any other study tip guru.
This week’s Study Dude further explores Mastering the Craft of Writing: How to Write With Clarity, Emphasis, & Style by Stephen Wilbers. He shows you how to excite with sentence structure and how to add oomph with varied sentence sizes.
A Bang; A Climax; A Smoking Gun: Your Sentence Structure
Do you like to dine, dance solo, and sing soprano in choirs? Now, look at that last question. What do you notice? Each item in the series gets progressively longer (and hopefully more exciting). Yes, according to Wilbers, you have entered the world of climaxing sentences.
And, ending your sentence with a bang is a strategy proposed by Stephen Wilbers, Roy Peter Clark, and Joshua Schimel, all authors on how to write well. End with a word that thrills.
Now, have you ever sang a song? Of course you have. Do you notice that you heave out your breath on the first note, and you hold and maybe even vibrate your last note? Well, That’s kind of like writing. Wilbers says, make your first and last words dramatic. Build up to a crescendo.
But, before we go into too much depth, let’s let Wilber guide us through the drama of sentence structure:
– Try to place emphasis on the first and last words of your sentences. (This doesn’t work for every sentence.)
– Leave out “in order to” and “under the circumstances that”? or other boring words? from the start of your sentence. You can, however, place these words in the middle of your sentence.
– Always put “never” at the beginning of your sentence if You’re going to use it. Never should you leave the house sounds more engaging than You should never leave the house.
– Always put words like “finally” or “now” at the beginning.
– To climax your sentences, start with the simple stuff, end with the complex. Also, start with the shorter stuff, end with the longer: for instance, “he sighed, butted his cigarette, and pursed his lips into a slow haunting whistle.” Also, start with the literal and end with the figurate, as in “his wide snout, his calculating eyes, and his fantastical inner world made him a great TV host.” Your punchiest word in a series of words should end the series.
– Cut out the garbage at the end of the sentence to tighten it up. For the sentence, “Whose woods these are I think I know for sure” (p. 146), you would slice off the trailing “for sure.” Make your sentences end with a punchy word. Go ahead and even rearrange your sentences for an ending with punch.
The Long and Short: Trailing Phrases, Fragments, and Long-Short Sentence Finales.
Sprinkle in long and short sentences to sweeten your writing. In the past Study Dude articles, I’ve been hesitant to embrace long sentences starting with subordinate clauses for fear of losing clarity. (See Steven Pinker’s book A Sense of Style for a great discussion on clear writing.) But, in the process of shortening my sentences, I lost pizzazz.
But, I do pride myself for using sentence fragments in the articles. Why? Their beauty. (That’s a sentence fragment: an incomplete sentence.) I also like using fragments because journalists, nonfiction writers, and mostly fiction writers use fragments to fire up their stories.
However, as an academic, you might want to consult with your professor before using sentence fragments. And be sure to read Wilbers’s chapter on sentence fragments so that you can learn the rules?before you break them.
But, some people hate rules; That’s just their personality type (see the Myer-Briggs personality test). If you love breaking the rules, try to get a general sense of the rules by reading at least a few books on how to write. After that, start seeking out books in your favorite genre that break the rules, and note the patterns. For instance, are verbs often left out when describing scenery (as in, “The crying rain.”)? Once you know the patterns, go ahead and break them.
But, again, for academic writing, let your professor know that you wish to break certain rules in writing?and be sure to show you know the rules. Get permission before flavoring your writing with no-nos. Dare yourself.
Wilbers get you thinking about sentence length in his following commentary:
– If your sentences all seem short or all seem long, then you’ve got writer’s disease. Vary your sentence sizes.
– Make sure your writing has plenty of commas, dashes, colons, and semi-colons as these vary the tempo.
– Replace your period with a dash, colon, semicolon, or parenthesis?and add an exciting tidbit after the punctuation.
– Use at least one comma for every fifteen words, like Wilbers himself does.
– Use at least one subordinate clause every paragraph.
– Remember that whenever you want to use a colon, just replace it in your thoughts with “that is,” “which means,” “which is to say,” “in other words,” or “voila!” These preceding phrases all mean the same as the colon. As an example, the sentence “I crave energy: sugars and fats,” can be read as “I crave energy… in other words, sugars and fats.” Another example of the colon is as follows: “I read the dictionary for utility: I read until I fall asleep,” which could be read as “I read the dictionary for utility, which means I read until I fall asleep.”
– When writing a long sentence, follow-up with a short one. The long sentence might start with a subordinate clause. The short sentence could be one or more short and snappy sentences or fragments. Get your prof’s permission before using sentence fragments, though. Try it.
– Fragments can add drama (“The gun in her hand.”), indicate action (“Sprinting forth.”), reveal a setting (“A homely condo.”), make a mark on the senses (“Putrid Nelly.”), propel a plot (“Sinking now.”), create a mood (“Bitter rotten.”), and so forth.
– Make your fragments sound like poetry.
So, there’s nothing to fear. The Study Dude is determined to make right for you all the wrongs I made in grad school?one A+ at a time.
Wilbers, Stephen. (2014). Mastering the Craft of Writing: How to Write with Clarity, Emphasis, & Style. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.