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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Classic style respects the stress position"

That sentence is on page 69 of Clear and Simple as the Truth (Turner and Thomas). The last element of a sentence is the most important, generally speaking, and so the classic writer puts something which is to be emphasized in that stress position. Often this is new information.

The initial part of the sentence, conversely, is the best place to situate the topic (what the sentence is going to be about) or to cover information already known to the reader. Frustration often ensues when the beginning of a sentence seems to offer no guidance at all as to what the sentence is going to be about.

The topic might be clearly stated, but the stress position might be wasted. "The role of violence in the novels of Ricardo Piglia..." That sound like a good topic for sentence, but too often it is followed by something vague or pointless like "is one of the defining characteristics of his work." You should say something specific and worthy of the stress position instead of a throwaway line this this. In this case, I would reverse those two elements: "One of the defining characteritics of RC's novels is the ...' i would also be more precise in my statement, trying to define a very specific treatment of violence, for example, or the narrator's implicit attitude toward it. So the topic is "novels written by Piglia" and the new information is "some specific and interesting point about these novels." That is classic recipe for a good sentence.


Vance Maverick said...

Do you suppose this book was written before "stress position" joined "ethnic cleansing" among the euphemisms that are clearer and creepier than the plain expression?

Jonathan said...

What struck me about the phrase was that it was one of the only jargon phrases in the entire book, and so it sounds slightly comic in context. What is the plain sense equivalent of "the stress position"?

Vance Maverick said...

You'd know better than I. Putting the most important thing last is traditional advice, right? ("Rum, the lash and sodomy" doesn't do the same job.) So there is a position within the sentence that stresses whatever's placed in it. What better to call it?-- were there not that unfortunate association with torture.

Andrew Shields said...
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Andrew Shields said...

"What is the plain sense equivalent of 'the stress position'?"

Maybe "the end of the sentence"?