Monday, March 30, 2009

Write for rhythm, variety, value and shape.

My good friend, Dennis Moran, the great (really) designer, has identified the similarities between writing and design. He specifically mentioned in a recent post the "...contrast and rhythm, variety of form...value and shape...." that writing and design share.

Just as great graphic design (and other works of visual art) benefit from variety and contrast, writing benefits, as well. I trust I provided an example of that in the last post. And, I promised to provide more today. So, I begin with an unusual sentence style that you do not want to overuse but that will surprise the reader when you use the style well. I call it the "Yoda Sentence Style."

Yoda Sentence Style
This kind of sentence puts its main elements in an inverted style. It typically puts the object at the beginning: "Fighting for their place in the galaxy the rebels are." Does that sound like Yoda? The Yoda sentence may also put the modifiers at the beginning : "At the edge of the galaxy, among the enemies of our cause, preparing for the fight wait Obi-Wan and Anakin." In a business sentence that style might translate into something like this: "At the end of the project, having given their best, living by the promises of our mission, stand our employees, exhausted but unbowed."

Triad Style Sentences
This kind of sentence uses semi-colons to great effect. That is, you write three independent clauses (three groups of words that could stand on their own as independent sentences) and connect them into one compound sentence using semi-colons. If you are Roman, your sentence will look like this: "I came; I saw; I conquered." If you are an ordinary business mortal you might write: "We delivered the highest quality; we sold at the best prices; our customers re-paid us with their loyalty."

Parallel Style Sentences
These kinds of sentences make for easy, and pleasing, reading. They rely on something we discussed before "parallel structure." If you look at this sentence, you will find a parallel series of infinitives ("to + a verb")": "To enhance our market share, to increase our bottom line, to bring more value to our shareholders, we must first identify and satisfy the wants and needs of our customers." Don't you like the rhythm? This kind of sentence also saves space. It prevents: "If we want to increase our market share, we will need to identify the wants and needs...." and so on.

Balanced Style Sentence
Yes, I admit: I'm a Libra. So, I'll always be opting for, and recommending, balanced writing. This style of sentence can be called a compound sentence, that is, it consists usually of two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction. (Whew! This must be transporting you back to 8th grade,) Forget about the sentence names and the grammatical jargon; remember the style. It looks like this: "We did what the customers asked us, and we sold more this quarter than last year." Or, "We did what the customers asked us, but we sold less than last year." (The "coordinating conjunctions" are: and, but, or, nor, for, so, while, yet.)

Well, so much for the grammar lesson. I hope I kept you all the way through. I know you're probably exhausted. You may have pulled your wife's hair or dipped it in the ink well. You may have thrown a spit ball at your kid You may have scratched your invisible acne or your butt the way you did (OK, I did) as an unruly teenager. But, you learned something about variety in your writing. And, I hope you saw that what Dennis said is true: Good writing and good design share contrast and rhythm, variety of form, value and shape.

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