Notes From the Wasteland No. 30. What Do You Look For in a Sentence?

How do you like your sentences? Do you like them long and full and complex, complete with clauses and pauses and colon and commas? Do you like them parading down the page, long enough that you have to wait for them to form before you, materialising like matter in a science fiction film? Do you like them meaty and chunky, bristling with energy and effort, forcing the reader to really engage or risk losing all meaning through the simple facts of their length? Now, I’m all for punctuation, all for it. Punctuation is a life-saver. It is a life giver. Punctuation is the sinew that keeps the joints of your writing supple and fully functioning. Punctuation is the permission your words need, if any was needed, for them to take their place in the world.

Punctuation is everything.

Nowadays, the world seems to be filled with commas. Everything is continuous, in flux, never-ending, endless, and this state suits the comma, giving only brief pauses before the next thing arrives, hot on the heels of the last. This can be joyous, thrilling, wonderful, invigorating, breathless, like the frames of some wonderful scene from a wonderful film where the merging of character, space and place, and story, is perfectly judged and seamless in its edited flow. This can also be nectar on the tongue as we read and and we race, caught headlong and falling into the depths of a particular story, racing and reeling as events unfold across the unlimited boundaries of paragraph and page.

But sometimes I want brevity. I want breath. I want pause. I want to dance to a different beat. A simpler, shorter one. One that has a sense of space.

I want a simple sentence.

Not diminished. Not damaged. Truncated. Weakened. Frayed. Fragile. I want a sentence that works just as hard. Committed. Apposite. Ready. Formed properly. Shorter. Just shorter.

Period not comma.

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