Begin sentences with subjects and verbs, letting subordinate elements branch to the right. Even a long, long sentence can be clear and powerful when the subject and verb make meaning early.
To use this tool, imagine each sentence you write printed on an infinitely wide piece of paper. In English, a sentence stretches from left to right. Now imagine this: A reporter writes a lead sentence with subject and verb at the beginning, followed by other subordinate elements, creating what scholars call a "right-branching sentence."
I just created one. Subject and verb of the main clause join on the left ("A reporter writes") while all other elements branch off to the right. Here's another right-branching sentence, written by Lydia Polgreen as the lead of a news story in The New York Times:
Rebels seized control of Cap Haitien, Haiti's second largest city, on Sunday, meeting little resistance as hundreds of residents cheered, burned the police station, plundered food from port warehouses and looted the airport, which was quickly closed. Police officers and armed supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled.
That first sentence is 37 words long and rippling with action. The sentence is so full, in fact, that it threatens to fly apart like some overheated engine. But the writer keeps control by creating meaning in the first three words: "Rebels seized control..." Think of that main clause as the locomotive that pulls all the cars that follow.
Today’s tip courtesy of Roy Clark found here:
I write lots of long sentences. I am going to work on using this tip.
What’s your story?