Sunday, July 5, 2015

Brevity is a Virtue

“I do.”

“Come home. She’s gone.”

“So help me God.”

These brief passages served as micronarratives—snapshots—of some of the most profound moments in my life. Without knowing me, a reader could likely surmise the gist of the events behind these words: my wedding, a death in the family and my oath of office.

“Express your most powerful thought in the shortest sentence,” Roy Peter Clark said in his article “The Short Sentence as Gospel Truth.”

This advice validates something that I had intuitively accepted as true: brevity is a virtue. I agree that short sentences can conjure imagery as powerful as a photograph. Clark outlined instances that offer proof of concept. For example, placing “[h]is was 00001” in a paragraph’s last sentence recasts the idea of Herman the chimpanzee’s longevity at his zoo.

I think that something even shorter—like a name or a single word—can create a reader reaction as intense as Jeremy’s lede example. Harkening back to a lesson from Professor Nagy’s Ancient Greek Heroes course (I highly recommend it), a name or a single word can serve as a signpost pointing to something larger.

Here’s an example:

Jar Jar Binks.

For Star Wars fans, this name likely evoked a visceral reaction. For me, it summed up all that was wrong with the Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace—a forced Campbellian trope, ill-conceived comic relief and annoying protagonists.

In his 1999 review of the film, Director and Massachusetts native Eli Roth expressed his most powerful thought in the shortest sentence when he said, “It sucks.”

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