First New Post: This Site, Dependent Clauses

This is a fresh start. All of the past blog material is gone, so I get a chance to start again. What shall we talk about?

Welcome

Thanks for having a look at the new site. It likely will change its look again, but we won’t lose the data. There are a few new things worthy of discussion. For example…

I Remembered My Rules of Writing!

Click here to open a new tab for my About page and you’ll find my Five Six Rules of Writing. For the life of me, I could not remember these for the old site. Okay, it’s time for a brief backstory.

Just adding a visual. This is from a fall event two years ago.
Just adding a visual. This is from a fall event two years ago.

I started full-time work as a teacher in August of 2007. There was a need to add a bit to the classroom’s bare walls. One of the first items was a half-page flyer with the original Five Rules. There is a vast digital archive of the documents created during my four years as a teacher, but somehow the Five Rules weren’t there.

Something aligned as this site went up. In addition to the first five, a sixth is present for the benefit of college admissions essay writers, which includes many, many teens. It was my privilege to help many students with these essays. These essays also revealed writing tendencies, which brings us to the next topic.

Dependent Clause Use: A Preference, Not a Rule

There are other breakable rules I use. One in particular is to never start a paragraph with a dependent clause. This is more of a style thing, but it goes against the conventional wisdom of some English teachers. This practice was, in fact, encouraged. The college essays I read used this structure early and often. My main reason for opposing this is the tendency for abuse.

Once abused, it creates a cadence that lulls a reader to sleep. Think about the way your mind reads such a sentence. The voice travels up as you read the opening (dependent clause), and then descends, resolving both the sentence and the descending notes, whether spoken aloud or not. Up and down, repeated, like a soft ocean swell…that…zzzz.

A little secret from voice work: when reading a text, you always end sentences on an up note to keep the listener’s ear engaged. The brain expects more. That’s another trick about a sentence that uses this structure. You cadence up, resolve down and most of the time we’ll do this in our heads as we read. But if you resolve down, how do you add the up note to keep the reader listener interested? Well, I guess you ask a question like I just did, but that can’t be done every time.

Here is the key: Don’t make your reader wait for information. If a clause is created and its full meaning revealed later, I risk a loss of comprehension. Yes, the previous sentence’s structure was intended. All those words and I could just say, “I risk losing readers if my style choice distracts.” It’s not about economizing words; it’s about communicating meaning.

Dependent clauses aren’t a bad thing. They do, however, get out of control. Their use is particularly bad practice when the goal is to reveal what a paragraph covers. Used sparingly they enhance writing and provide variation for the reader’s internal “ear.”

Writing is all about sharing. Your goal should be clarity. That is why a fiction writer edits a manuscript to remove everything that does not advance the story. Fluorish wins points with some, but it bores readers who want the meat of the your message. They want to know what you have to say, not marvel at how you say it.

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