Friday, July 25, 2008

Who the heck are these people?

I don't know who James R. Henderson III is or was, nor do I know who some guy named Lackey is or was, but I was digging through some writing handouts I'd collected and found one in which the aforementioned Lackey writes that Henderson was "a genius at tightening sentences. He would take a sentence tuned to a low G and tighten it till it pinged a double high C. ... I'd vow to write sentences he couldn't touch, but he would always improve them by taking out words."

Being able to tighten sentences, as a writer and as an editor, is a great skill to hone. It's cool to read the following examples from our friend Lackey, because it's an eye-opener on how often sentences contain extra words that can, over the course of a story, tire the reader:

Think of every sentence you ever write as a piece of string.
Think of every sentence you write as a piece of string.

After you write each sentence, take the sentence's beginning in one hand and its period in the other and hold the sentence up to determine it if sags in the middle.
After writing a sentence, hold its beginning in one hand and period in the other and see if it sags.

A sentence should sag as little as possible.
It should be taut.

It is not necessarily true that every sentence is improved when it is shortened.
Shortening a sentence won't always improve it.

But usually making a sentence shorter will make it better.
But usually it will.

And so on ... if anyone wants the whole handout let me know, I can make a copy.