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Simplicity or style: what makes a sentence a masterpiece? – Jenny Davidson | Aeon Ideas

Great sentences in moderation

Some writers bestow greatness in every sentence without tiring their readers while others can become wearisome with the unrelenting sequence of such sentences. Great minimalist sentences may be enjoyed for longer.

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Simplicity or style: what makes a sentence a masterpiece? – Jenny Davidson | Aeon Ideas

Simplicity or style: what makes a sentence a masterpiece? – Jenny Davidson | Aeon Ideas

https://aeon.co/ideas/simplicity-or-style-what-makes-a-sentence-a-masterpiece

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Key Ideas

The sentence

If we think of a book as an individual house, each sentence becomes a tiny part of the house. Some are mostly functional, while others are the details we remember and take away.

The great sentence

A great sentence makes you want to think it over slowly while considering it. The sentence must have a certain distinction of style and order that is unique to the author.

Great sentences in moderation

Some writers bestow greatness in every sentence without tiring their readers while others can become wearisome with the unrelenting sequence of such sentences. Great minimalist sentences may be enjoyed for longer.

SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Richard Feynman (1918–1988) "The Great Explainer”

He is considered to be one of the most important physicists of all time.

Feynman was brilliant, eloquent, and an exquisitely passionate thinker who stands unequivocally for his...
The Feynman Technique
The Feynman technique for teaching and communication is a mental model (a breakdown of his personal thought process) to convey information using to the point thoughts and simple language.

Feynman started to record and connect the things he did know with those he did not know, resulting in a thorough notebook of subjects that had been disassembled, translated, and recorded.

We can use this same model to learn new concepts.

“In order to talk to each other, we have to have words, and that’s all right. It’s a good idea to try to see the difference, and it’s a good idea to know when we are teaching the tools of sc...

“In order to talk to each other, we have to have words, and that’s all right. It’s a good idea to try to see the difference, and it’s a good idea to know when we are teaching the tools of science, such as words, and when we are teaching science itself.” 

Richard Feynman

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Getting clear on thought
Getting clear on thought

The knowledge of our thoughts can be effortless and instantaneous. Other times, our thoughts are obscure and we must work hard to gain clarity.

Trying to understand the process of turning t...

Articulating our thoughts in the hard cases

To succeed in articulation, we need to chisel away at imprecise words, while guarding against words that would blur what we think.

We often discover what we think by reflecting on what we find ourselves saying. Immediately articulating our thoughts can also come out of us as buzzwords that might hardly reflect what we think at all. (eg, 'What a mess!') These words could come as a result of habit and obscure your thoughts even from yourself.

The paradox of articulation

The careful searching for words we need stands in tension with the ignorance we hope it will remedy. The clarity we want seems to consist in the knowledge that we're thinking some specific thought.

Jean-Paul Sartre touched on this paradox when he stated: "This is indeed what linguists and psychologists have perceived … they believed that they discovered a circle in the formulation of speaking, for in order to speak it is necessary to know one's thought. But how can we know this thought as a reality made explicit and fixed in concepts except precisely by speaking it?"

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Changing Habits Of Punctuation
Changing Habits Of Punctuation

The digital age combined with short attention spans and time constraints has led to the demise of various punctuation skills like the omission of apostrophes, deliberate spelling mistakes a...

The Blank Space: Early History Of Punctuation
  • Early stone inscriptions did not even have the punctuation we all take for granted: The blank space.
  • Ancient Greece and Rome had the written word for keeping records of political speeches and texts, which were carefully used by the orator for maximum rhetorical effect and verbal impact.
  • In 200 BCE, the Alexandrian Aristophanes worked on easing pronunciation of Greek for foreigners by using small circles to denote pauses, emphasising the rhythm of the sentence.
  • The 7th-century encyclopaedist Isidore Of Seville later took up the task of inserting grammar in the same text, inventing the period, the colon and the comma.
Punctuation In Religious Texts
  • The language in the Quran had cantillation marks written above the line to signify the kind of pause required.
  • The 9th Century Torah manuscripts show vowel additions and cantillation marks that help in the recitation of the same.
  • Modern Arabic and Hebrew texts have similar punctuation marks as many western languages.

The breaks and sonic links were primarily used to aid singing, sense-making and enhancing the beauty of the verses.

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What Home Feels Like
What Home Feels Like

We often confuse the structural, physical entity that is the house as home. It may be the body of the home, and just like we relate to our body, the home relates to the house structure.

Home Is A Soul

Just as we are extremely lucky if we get one great love in our lives, we should consider ourselves lucky if we get a real home. The abstract concept of a home is almost supernatural, with the house being the architecture, providing shelter. Great architecture is like the external beauty of a person, which may or may not be corresponding to what the person really is from inside.

Nevertheless, the outside is what provides a lust, a longing to see what’s inside.

Architecture Is Fascinating

Architects are creators in the real sense. They can conceptualize and implement great design and arouse deep feelings just by the work they do.

Their work is a siren call for many, both romantic and high in status.

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The scientific revolution

Human history is often framed as a series of episodes, representing sudden bursts of knowledge. The Agricultural Revolution, the Renaissance, and the Industrial Revolution are a few examples where ...

Pseudo-Science 

Much of the knowledge about the natural world during the middle ages dates back to the teachings of the Greeks and Romans. Many did not question these ideas, despite the many flaws.

  • Aristotle taught everything beneath the moon was comprised of four elements: earth, air, water, and fire.
  • Greek astronomer Claudius Ptolemy thought that heavenly bodies such as the sun, moon, planets and various stars all revolved around the earth in perfect circles.
  • The ancient Greeks and Romans held to the idea that illnesses were the result of an imbalance of four basic substances and was related to the theory of the four elements.
Rebirth and Reformation
  • During the Renaissance, there was a renewed interest in the arts and literature. It led to a shift toward more independent thinking.
  • In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther promoted his thoughts by printing and distributing them, encouraging churchgoers to read the Bible for themselves. This led to the Protestant Reformation.
  • In the process, the criticism and reform led to placing the burden of proof ahead in understanding the natural world, paving the way for the scientific revolution.

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The first draft

The first words you write are the first draft. Writing is thinking. You'll rarely know what exactly you want to say when you start writing.

The time you put into editing, reworking and re...

Common errors

Most writing mistakes are widespread, but good writers just get better at spotting them. Some things you'll learn to watch for are:

  • Overuse of jargon and business-speak, like "utilize" or "endeavor" instead of "use" or "try."
  • Clichés are stale phrases that have lost their impact and novelty through overuse. If you are used to seeing it in print, don't use it.
  • The passive voice. The subject of the sentence should be the person or thing taking action, not the thing being acted on. "Harry wrote this article," is better than "This article was written by Harry."
  • Rambling. When you are not sure what you want to say, it is easy to phrase it in three or four different ways. A single concise sentence is generally better.
Give it some space

When you write something, you get very close to it. It is nearly impossible to distance yourself from it straight away to edit properly.

The longer you can leave a draft before editing, the better. Half an hour to two days is enough of a break to edit well. When you do edit, read your work out loud. You'll catch more problems and get a better feel for how everything flows.

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Write

There is no substitute for writing. 
Start small. Write a good sentence, then a good paragraph. Write a lot. You might not be great from the start, but it is the road to good writing...

Writing is not typing

Writing is about thinking, researching, contemplating, outlining, composing, then maybe some typing with revisions as you go, deletions, additions, reflections, setting aside and returning afresh.
Typing is what you do in the middle of the two vast thoughtful processes.

Read

Read good writing—Dickens or Baldwin or evolutionary biology textbooks or the Old Testament, whatever holds your attention.

Don't read something just because it is popular at the moment; otherwise, you will be like everyone else and will not be able to make a meaningful contribution.

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Reading in the digital age

Online life makes us into a new kind of reader: Our attention fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. 

The opposite of the traditional reading ex...

Not every emotion can be reduced to an emoji, and not every thought can be conveyed via tweet.

Not every emotion can be reduced to an emoji, and not every thought can be conveyed via tweet.

Cynical Readers

We have become cynical readers – we read in the disjointed, goal-oriented way that online life encourages & we stop exercising our attention. 

We read just as much if not more. We live in a text-gorged society in which the most fleeting thought is a thumb-dash away from posterity. It's how we read that changed.

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The Lost Art Of Reading

In the digital age, where reading material is abundant, sustained and deep reading is falling out of favor. Readers have lost the 'cognitive patience' that they had reading complex works i...

Reading In The Digital Age

New readers, especially children have reduced deep-reading skills.

Digital media is consumed differently in a 'skimming' time-bound way, as opposed to the profound, thoughtful reading associated with print books.

People have become addicted to digital devices, as the content they see and read may not be deep and immersive, but is engaging and conversation like, rendering it more alive than the printed word.

Rewiring The Brain

The Internet is training our brain to adapt and work differently than in the last century, as the changing technological landscape requires different cognitive skills.

The new digital mediums mostly do not have the quality, as most of the stuff online seems uninteresting, but it has the quantity, making it even more discordant and chaotic.

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