This week we’ve spotted a couple of sentences that lose the plot.
The key to staying on track is the shortish sentence. It’s not a new thing. The Plain English people put it on their list of essentials. Use around 12-15 words and you’ll get a sentence that’s just about right, most of the time.
It’s a guideline, not a rule. We’ll have both short snappy and long interesting sentences in our own workshop handbooks which the more pedantic of rule followers can wave back at us as proof that we’re not doing what we advise.
Some writers are adept at handling short, medium and long sentences and still getting their points over clearly. But people who haven’t spent a lot to time thinking about what they write – and just let it tumble out as a stream of (un)consciousness – aren’t always that good at it.
First, practise writing short sentences until you’ve really nailed it.
It’s a bit like singing. If you’ve got a song that only covers one octave – do re me fa so la ti do, like in the Sound of Music – most people can handle it. Stay within your range and you’ll sound fine. Someone with a naturally good voice will be able to handle double that. If you’ve spent ten years practising in the church choir like the great American soul singers, you’ve probably tripled or quadrupled your range.
Dickens is a four octave kind of a writer. He could juggle a sixty work sentence and not a word would fall out of place. Then he’d hit you with a four worder to make a point.
Here’s someone who should have stuck to 12-15 words:
By constantly evolving in line with the telecommunications industry and never losing sight of our core values, X secures itself as a respected leader in the business mobile industry, working as one of the top Y Partners in the UK and thus a position of strength.
‘..and thus a position of strength’? That last bit just doesn’t fit. The writer has forgotten what the beginning of the sentence says by the time he gets to the end. (And who writes ‘thus’ these days?)
Our Rowena is an exotic sort of person, so Helen made this to be like a slammer cocktail – invigorating, a bit naughty and has a bit of a kick.
‘…and has a bit of a kick.’ Again it doesn’t fit the rest of the sentence. ‘…with a bit of a kick’ would have been fine.
Everyone can write. But know your limits. And if you think your sentence has wandered off and forgotten to tell its mum where it’s going, stop it, start again and slice it up.