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It Was The Best Of Sentences, It Was The Worst Of Sentences: A Writer's Guide To Crafting Killer Sentences

6 mins
book summary writing
Shawn L
Builds stuff minimally
Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Write for your readers

Why should your readers care? How will this affect them?

While the boat show is predictably crowded over the weekends, holding the event over Thanksgiving for the second consecutive year positively impacts the flow of attendees over the closing weekend, which is traditionally the busiest.


You’re telling the reader “Stay put, it’ll take a while before I get to my point.”

See Chapter 2 on subordinating conjunction.

predictably crowded

Drop your adverbs.


This is the most important part of the sentence. Our subject. Don’t tone it down. Use ‘hold.’

See chapter 13 on actions made into nouns.

for the second consecutive year

This attaches to holding. You’re saying holding for the second consecutive year - not three or four - has the largest impact.

positively impacts

Corporate talk. Impact is weak and vague.

See chapter 6 on choice of words.

which is traditionally the busiest

Does traditionally adds information? See chapter 8 on relative clause.

Organize, prioritize and chop. Breakdown the information and trim.

  • The boat show is crowded on the weekends.
  • The event is being held [or can be held] over Thanksgiving.
  • The event was held over Thanksgiving last year.
  • Holding it over Thanksgiving means crowds are better spread out over the duration of the show.
  • This improves crowding on the closing weekend.
  • The closing weekend is traditionally the busiest.

Chapter 2. Conjunction kills the subordination

Recognize them and know their potential hazard. Emphasize what’s important.

Coordinating conjunctions are ‘FANBOYS’: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.

I like apple and oranges.

Both apple and oranges have equal weight.

Subordinating conjunctions include: after, although, because, if, when, while, as long as, and in order that.

Don’t let the subordinator tone down a big news.

After walking [minor info], he [big news].

Here’s a weak sentence:

Before robbing a bank, Mike was an accountant.

Common misuse of subordinator:

  • As suggests simultaneous action.
  • While during or throughout the time that. Don’t use it to mean although.
  • If can be a problem on longer sentences. If [B], [B]. B is conditional on A.
  • Since refers to a time span. Be careful of using it to mean because.
  • Than. ‘Do you like Coldplay more than Madonna?’ You could mean do you like Coldplay more than Madonna likes Coldplay.

Chapter 5. Sentences that say nothing - or words

Listen to your words. Write for the reader.

You needn’t do the math to figure out the number.

Number is maths.

Autumn is a great time to enjoy the region’s ambient weather.

Is there a nonambient weather?

Chapter 6. Choose specific words over vague ones

Vague Specific Very Specific
Food Sandwich Sardine-and-avocado panino au jus
Effect Negative side effect Testicular torsion
Proceed Walk Meander dreamily

Chapter 7. Manner adverbs hurt writing

Quickly, slowly, enthusiastically.

These describes the manner of an action. They answer the questions when, where, how, or in what manner.

Avoid them.

Brenda previously written three chidlren’s books.

There’s no difference between previously written and written.

Adverbs weaken a sentence. Compare this:

I brutally killed him. I truly didn’t want to. But he ultimately gave me absolutely no choice.

with this:

I killed him. I didn’t want to. He gave me no choice.

Choose adverbs carefully.

Chapter 8. Relative clauses

Restrictive relative clauses are essential and can’t be removed.

Any house that I buy must be yellow

Nonrestrictive relative clauses are nonessential and usually found with commas.

The ceremony will honor the athletes, who won.

Chapter 9. Prepositional phrases

I photographed an elephant in my pajamas.

Modifiers should stick to the closest word. Move it closer.

In my pajamas, I photographed an elephant.

Chapter 10. Dangling participles

Running down the street in high heels, my dog was too fast for me to catch.

Your dog wear high heels?

Keep the participial phrase close to the modifying noun.

Chapter 11: Passives

Passives are awful.

But passives are best when you want to downplay the doer of an action.

Professor Persimmon is considered a leading economic expert.

Chapter 12: Verb tenses: Had been

Simple past tense is the safest form.

Past perfect: an action completed before another.

I had walked

Past perfect progressive: continuing action interrupted by another.

I have been walking

Future perfect progressive: continuing future action done before another

I will have been walking

These complex verb tenses tell when one action took place relative to when another took place

Chapter 13. Normalization

Those -ing and words like laziness and difficulty.

These are buried verbs. A nominalization is a form of a verb or an adjective that functions as a noun.

Usually you’re better off turning these sentences into real actions with real actors:

Remembering the appointment is crucial.


It’s crucial that you remember the appointment.

Chapter 14. The the

Katie screamed and grabbed the diary.

What diary?

If you’ve mentioned somewhere earlier in the story that there exists a diary, the diary is fine. But if this is the first mention of the diary, that the is rude.

You can fix it by adding a relative clause

…grabbed the diary that her mother had given her.

You can use the to tease. Starting with unfamiliarity, you’re asking for the reader’s trust and promising you’ll reveal it later.

Chapter 15. Unclear antecedents

It, that and which create problems.

I went to the movies with my daughter, and though we were late, we caught most of the new Woody Allen movie. That’s what life is all about.

What is that? Being late?

You can be clearer by saying:

Afternoon like that are what life is all about.

Repeating your antecedent is better than chaos.

Chapter 16. Faulty parallels

She was awarded a national book award in fiction as well as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Which prize finalist they gave her and what she did with him?

Parallel form relies on reader expectations. When readers see something in list form, they expect it to be a list.

Several ways to fix faulty parallels:

  1. Add bits to the parallel until they’re equal

This car runs fast, runs well, lasts long, requires little maintenance, and holds its value.

  1. Break up the sentence to signal that the list has ended

This car runs fast, well, and long, and it requires little maintenance and holds its value.

Chapter 17. Semicolons and parentheses

  1. Semicolons often serve no purpose other than to show off that the writer knows how to use semicolons.
  2. Parentheses often let a writer cram in information she was too lazy to explain in a more Reader-friendly manner.

Parentheses are good as a voice device - slipping in wry observations, ironies, exclamations, and other little bits of commentary:

George told me he was going out for a pack of cigarettes (yeah, right) and that I shouldn’t wait up.

Chapter 19. Trim the fats

The freshly rejuvenated $70-million Sands Resort & Spa hearkens to Vegas’s glory days.

In addition to is often bad. Just get to the other thing.

Hawaiians have adopted a lifestyle that is decidedly more leisurely and tolerant than that of their fellows on the mainland.

Watch out for hollow clauses:

Dancing is an activity that amount to good exercise.

A from…to sentence can be windy. Resist using them.

Readers can determine what is remarkable:

One of the more remarkable aspects of the park is the fact that it has eight manicured gardens.

Watch out for sentences too cowardly to come out and say something or whose wording is just too convoluted.