Tuesday, July 05, 2011

How To Craft The Perfect Sentence, Part 16

by CWK


Organize words in “the best order” -- remember, poetry is, "the best words in the best order."

It takes work to get those rascally words in line, in the best possible order. You'll need to work at it if you hope to assemble your words together in the most appropriate way.

One common misconceptions is, “I only need to write the words down as they come to mind.” Such thinking makes for DISorganized, malformed sentences. What if you bought an unassembled bike, dumped it out of the box, and said, “I will put it together based on how the parts fell out?” The final product would not be roadworthy, to say the least.

In organizing words in “the best order” you should pay special attention to the first and last word of each sentence.

Lunsford and Connors offer this helpful advice, “Identify the word or words you want to receive special emphasis. If those words are buried in the middle of the sentence, revise the sentence to change their position, remembering that the end and the beginning are generally most emphatic (The St. Martin’s Handbook, Second Edition, 305).”

The First Word

The first word of each sentence is what grammarians often refer to as the emphatic position. It gets special attention from the reader because it is the first word they read. The emphatic position can be used in lots of ways to deliver meaning.

Consider this sentence, “You are putting me in a bad position.”

The word “You” is in the emphatic position. This sentence is, therefore, communicating, “You – you are the one – who is putting me in this position.”

Consider this line from Aragron in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings,
“And the shadow I utterly reject.”

The word order is non-traditional (conjunction/direct-object/then subject/then adverb/and finally verb). Nontraditional, yes, but perfect.

The words “And the shadow” are in the emphatic position. Tolkien, I suppose, might have had Aragorn say, in traditional word order, “I utterly reject the shadow (subject-adverb-verb, and then direct-object).” If he had, it would alter the sense of the sentence greatly, and (I’d say) for the worse.

The Last Word

The last word of each sentence also bears special importance. It is, in terms of a sentence, the finale. It is what you leave the reader with – literally, “the last word.”

Consider again, “And the shadow I utterly reject.” Since “reject” is the last word of the sentence it leaves the reader with an impression of Aragorn’s resoluteness, moral strength, and fortitude.

Emphasis is achieved through word order. So, in crafting the perfect sentence, you not only need the best words – you need them in the “best order.” When it comes to order, there are two “emphatic” positions: the first and last word of your sentence.

So, to emphasize you have two options: 1) the beginning of the sentence,  2) the end of the sentence.

Why are these two positions emphatic? The beginning is the FIRST word; the first word your reader sees. The end is the LAST word; the last word your reader sees.

Compare these two famous Beatle’s lines, and the key word “love.”

All you need is love.
Love is all you need.

The first sentence emphasizes “love” with the first position. The second sentence emphasizes “love” with the last position.

Note: Depending on your word order, you can convey -- even in a short sentence -- lots of surprise and/or suspense. 


An assassin, to my surprise, was waiting in my kitchen.


There, waiting in my kitchen, to my surprise, was an assassin.

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