Don’t underestimate the power of the clear, direct sentence, but creating rhythm, variety, and emphasis are other ways to make your writing compelling.

 

Here is a segment from a USA Today story looking back on pay phones in America:

For a century, the pay phone has been the impersonal medium for some of our most personal news: It’s a boy. You made the honor roll. I wrecked the car. He died in his sleep.

… The phone booth was a dressing room for Superman, a refuge for Tippi Hedren in The Birds, a lifeline for Robert Redford, as he ran from killers in Three Days of the Condor.

… Pay phones have been innocent targets of irrational rage – burned, bombed, beaten, and “graffitied.” We jammed gum in the coin slots, yanked out the cords, slammed down the receiver in frustration.

A few things worth noting:

  • When you use two, three, or four short sentences after a longer segment, as in the first line (above), they gain emphasis because they are short and crisp, and a rhythm emerges.
  • In the second paragraph, the commas — without and before the last one — create a rhythm that helps you breeze through the sentence.
  •  In the third sentence, series burned, bombed, beaten, and “graffitied,” the commas separate words that are similar: The emphasis in each word is on the first syllable.
  • The use of alliteration (the repetition of the “b” sound), is pleasing to the ear.