Thursday, April 19, 2007

Seminar tidbit: Focus on sentences

Roy Peter Clark is heading a Poynter seminar for sports writers that began yesterday. A friend of mine, Dustin Long, who covers NASCAR for papers in Norfolk, Va., Roanoke, Va. and Greensboro, N.C. is there and I asked him to send along some tips ... because although the seminar is targeted toward sports writers, everyone can take something from a writing coach like Clark.

Here is the first tip, as Dustin wrote in an e-mail to me (emphasis added by me). I'll add more tips as the seminar goes along:

Take a hard look at your sentences. You want them to be powerful at the beginning and the end.
For example, here's how (Clark) improved a sentence from a story:
Original sentence (about the death of a whale in Atlanta): "They gathered and knelt around the 15-foot creature.''
Not a bad sentence but here's how to make it better:
"They gathered around the 15-foot creature and knelt.''
So, what's different? What's the big deal with changing the order of a few words in the sentence?
The revised sentence provides a more powerful image, a more powerful ending with emotion. You have an action at the beginning of the sentence, information and context in the middle, and action at the end. The action at the beginning and end of sentences make them stronger.
He said think of the end of a sentence like a gymnast finishing their routine. You want to stick the landing.