From The Guardian:
Every writer, of school age and older, is in the sentences game. The sentence is our writing commons, the shared ground where all writers walk. A poet writes in sentences, and so does the unsung author who came up with “Items trapped in doors cause delays”. The sentence is the Ur-unit, the core material, the granular element that must be got right or nothing will be right. For James Baldwin, the only goal was “to write a sentence as clean as a bone”.
What can celebrated writers teach the rest of us about the art of writing a great sentence? A common piece of writing advice is to make your sentences plain, unadorned and invisible. George Orwell gave this piece of advice its epigram: “Good prose is like a windowpane.” A reader should notice the words no more than someone looking through glass notices the glass.
. . . .
Behind Orwell’s windowpane theory of prose lies a puritan pride, a sense that the writer will be purified by a clean, sinewy style as by an early morning run and a cold shower. “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity,” he wrote. Insincere writing spat out tired idioms “like a cuttlefish spurting out ink”. Bad ideas were the bedfellows of bad prose. Fake thoughts made fake sentences.
Some of this is true but none of it is a good way of learning how to write a sentence. More ethical demand than useful advice, it forces writers back to their own reserves of wisdom and authenticity. It blames bad writing on laziness and dishonesty, when a likelier culprit is lack of skill. If you ordered me to make a blancmange, all I could come up with would be a gloopy, inedible mess – not because I am lazy or dishonest, but because, although I have some vague idea that it needs sugar, cornflour and boiled milk, I don’t know how to make a blancmange.
Orwell saw the plain English sentence as the sword of existential truth, a cure-all for the bad faith of modern life. But much of the time he didn’t even follow his own advice. “If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out,” he ordered. Perhaps he should have written: “If you can cut a word, do.”
. . . .
A good sentence imposes a logic on the world’s weirdness. It gets its power from the tension between the ease of its phrasing and the shock of its thought slid cleanly into the mind. A sentence, as it proceeds, is a paring away of options. Each added word, because of the English language’s dependence on word order, reduces the writer’s alternatives and narrows the reader’s expectations. But even up to the last word the writer has choices and can throw in a curveball. A sentence can begin in one place and end in another galaxy, without breaking a single syntactic rule. The poet Wayne Koestenbaum calls it “organising lava”, this pleasure to be got from “pushing a sentence in a wrong direction without altering its sweet grammatical composure”.
Link to the rest at The Guardian
PG’s least favorite sentences (or sentence fragments) have been found in the portion of a contract generally called the Recitals. Recitals are completely antithetical to good sentences.
Recitals come at the beginning of a contract (right after the Preamble – “This Agreement is made on the 21st day of September, 2018, by and between XXX and YYY) and can set the scene for the meat of the contract.
Ofttimes, the Recitals begin with one of the more lawyerly words (traditional and unnecessary), “Whereas”. You can optionally choose, “WHEREAS” or skip the word altogether if you’re in a Bolshevik frame of mind.
Here is an example:
Whereas, Seller manufactures overpriced and useless widgets; and
Whereas, Buyer has run out of overpriced and useless widgets; and
Whereas, Buyer believes it needs a regularly replenished stock of overpriced and useless widgets sitting around the warehouse; and
Whereas, Seller and Buyer agreed on the price and quantity of widgets to be purchased prior to involving their attorneys; and
Whereas, both Seller and Buyer deny being the first one to suggest attorneys be involved in this transaction; and
Whereas, counsel for Seller and Buyer have spent a lot of time crossing every T and dotting every i in this contract, and pretty much agree that they dread seeing an email from one another show up in their inbox; and
Whereas, the Parties have finally reigned in their respective attorneys.
Recitals are proof that the run-on sentence will never die, regardless of what your middle-school English teacher told you. PG is a little hazy about how semicolons are supposed to be used anywhere except in a recital.
The Recitals are then followed by another boilerplate clause indicating the parties have (finally) come to an agreement. In case there is doubt in anyone’s mind, this boilerplate clause demonstrates that this contract is a contract instead of a press release and erases all doubts that the parties have agreed on something and, for the moment, everything about the anticipated contractual relationship is sunshine and lollipops:
NOW, THEREFORE in consideration of the mutual covenants and agreements herein and other good and valuable consideration, the receipt, adequacy and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged by the parties, the parties agree as follows:
PG has never heard any reason why NOW, THEREFORE is always emphasized. Perhaps it’s designed to catch the attention of the reader who has started to nod off while reviewing the recitals.
PG is also not certain why adequacy and sufficiency are both frequently found in this clause. If consideration (whatever each party is getting out of the contract – widgets in the case of the Buyer and money in the case of the Seller) is adequate, isn’t it also sufficient? He has similar questions about good and valuable consideration.
Among their other useless characteristics, the Recitals are not supposed to be part of the binding contract itself. They’re sort of like the time before a concert actually begins when all the musicians are tuning and messing about with their instruments. You’re going to hear something important soon but what you’re hearing right now isn’t that something.
If a recital says one thing and a provision in the contract says another, the contract provision wins. If a recital says one thing and the contract fails to mention anything about that topic, the recital is supposed to have just about the same legal effect as a comment on the weather.
However, like so many other things, a random recital can always be a reason to argue about something in the contract itself. “Why would the parties have inserted this recital about tree frogs if they didn’t have any intention of the contract actually doing something with tree frogs?”
The response is that recitals are the ultimate boilerplate contract clause – long and pretty much useless. Trees long departed for the pulping mill would still be growing with birds nesting in their branches if it were not for recitals.
PG is not aware of any real benefit that recitals provide. If a recital is a basis for a dispute, it probably proves nothing except that the attorney or paralegal or secretary who cut and pasted the recitals from another agreement into the one people are arguing over (the almost universal method for creating recitals) was listening to iTunes when the first draft was created.