Write Strong Sentences!
That’s great advice – but how do you do it?
One practical strategy is to flip that advice into “Avoid weak sentences.” For me, that translates into looking for sentences that sputter. For example, I recently read this comment by New Yorker critic Richard Brody:
Rudolf Serkin: The Complete Columbia Album Collection is a seventy-five-disc set featuring some of the very best piano recordings that exist. WEAK
Read Brody’s sentence aloud, and you’ll hear that sputter when you come to “that exist.” You can feel the sentence losing energy. Solution? I would revise the sentence to eliminate “that exist.” (You wouldn’t even be talking about the disc set if it didn’t exist!)
Rudolf Serkin: The Complete Columbia Album Collection is a seventy-five-disc set featuring some of the very best piano recordings. STRONGER
Here’s another example. Last week I was typing a column about hummingbirds for Charlie. Take a look at this sentence (or – better yet – read it aloud):
If a garden features plants with appropriate blossoms, hummingbirds will find it. WEAK
Ending a sentence with it is a surefire way to write a weak sentence – exactly what you don’t want. (There’s a usage problem as well: “it” is an indefinite pronoun reference.)
Here’s how I revised the sentence to make it stronger:
If you fill your garden with appropriate blossoms, hummingbirds will come. STRONGER
I had one more suggestion for Charlie: “appropriate blossoms” feels too dry and abstract. How about mentioning some of those plants? For example:
If you fill your garden with foxgloves, impatiens, and other nectar-rich plants, hummingbirds will come. STRONGER
Many writers make the mistake of rushing through the writing process. The key to stronger sentences is…persistence. Read your sentences aloud, listen for sputters, and always be on the lookout for small changes that will add power to your writing.