Saturday, May 25, 2013
The craft of rewriting-Technical Flaws-Syntax
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: March 30, 2013
Syntax is the order and relationship among the structural elements (sentences and paragraphs) in our writing. Basically, it is how we place our words. Syntax is often dependent upon our individual styles, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a correct way to create sentences and put them into paragraphs that lend music to the rhythm of the prose.
Syntax isn’t just about what we put in a sentence. It’s also about which words we choose, the punctuation (or lack thereof), and how we put it all together. A well written sentence makes a huge difference for the reader. It can convey thoughts or messages far better than a poorly crafted sentence. Careful attention to syntax is the difference between writing that rambles and a crisp, memorable piece of prose.
We don’t often think about syntax when writing the rough draft. This is fine, because we can fix it on rewrite. However, understanding what makes a good sentence, a good paragraph, and a good structure, means sentences are more likely to be constructed properly the first go ‘round, saving editing time later. The instinct for good syntax comes with practice. This means paying attention to these things when rewriting so that we don’t make the same mistake with another draft later.
When rewriting, we read each sentence and consider the following:
Is the sentence clear?
Sometimes we intentionally imbue a sentence with ambiguity, but this should be a conscious choice rather than an accident. When a message or an idea is clear in our minds, we may not realize what we’ve actually written is unclear for the reader—who can’t see inside our heads. Often confusion is due to poor word choice or incorrect punctuation.
Medusa shifted her gaze to his, which petrified him.
Did Medusa turn him into stone, as is her tendency, or did we mean that he was scared that she looked his way? If the latter, the word choice is poor. It can mean too many things in this sentence. On rewrite, we must clarify what we mean.
Medusa shifted her gaze to his, which terrified him.
Medusa shifted her gaze to his, turning him into stone.
By saying what we mean, instead of using vague words, the sentence is clear to the reader.
Does the sentence have an echo?
In other words, have we inserted the same idea twice in the same sentence?
Bob was a big man, so he didn’t need a ladder to reach the top shelf because he was so tall.
This sentence says the same thing three times. We’ve said he’s a big man and indicated his height with the “didn’t need a ladder” part of the sentence. Why add that he’s tall?
Bob didn’t need a ladder to reach the top shelf.
Enough said. Echoing ideas often occurs in a first draft because we overwrite to get all of the information out. When we read it back, it’s important to look for thoughts that repeat not only in sentences, but in paragraphs as well.
Writers use syntactical techniques to invoke a response in the reader. We want to create emotions such as fear, excitement or tension. Using short sentences or long, we manipulate the reader into feeling what we want her to feel. We dictate through punctuation when we want her to breathe, to slow down, or to read faster. The way that we build sentences and paragraphs influences the rhythm of the prose.
When rewriting for syntax, we look at more than just individual sentences. We have to look at the prose as a whole and how each part builds on the previous. Earlier we discussed normal syntax order (subject, verb, object), but in the following sections, we’ll look at rewriting to ensure we show variety in sentences and paragraphs.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
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