Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ruining Everything With One Tone-Deaf Sentence

My hope is that this discussion will be continued, and I invite those readers who can't believe I failed to include their all-time favorite sentence to send it to me; perhaps there will be a second edition.
--Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence

Writers, be careful. One arrogant sentence can ruin everything. Aside from the central irony that this tone-deaf and inartful sentence comes from a book about how to write great sentences, what's wrong with it?

1) "My hope is that" -- Needless words. Replace with I hope.

2) "this discussion will be continued" -- Passive voice. Better: I hope to continue this discussion.

3) Semicolon use: QWT readers all know by now that semicolons usually signify muddled thoughts, unclear writing, or needlessly complex sentence structure.

4) "perhaps there will be a second edition" -- Here's where Mr. Fish spins off into true arrogance. Consider the perspective of a reader who can't believe Fish failed to include her all-time favorite sentences. Would you bother to find some way to track down this author with your favorite sentence--on the hopes that perhaps there will be a second edition? Perhaps?

Me neither.