A Short Post about Syntax

When you are reading, do you ever come across a phrase or paragraph and you think “that was awkward.”? Or you get lost in the words? It is because the syntax isn’t cutting it. In storytelling, syntax has two roles. And it can be both. The first role is as information storage. Syntax is the structure of your sentence which stores the information of your story. And a book can be written purely with the first role. But the second role is where a storyteller needs to pay attention, because the second role of syntax is syntax as a literary device.

Example. “I saw my father lift a stone for my uncle and I to see.” vs. “I saw my father lift a stone for my uncle to see.” Each sentence has the same information. My father does the action, my uncle and I see a stone. But the first sentence implies that my father cares that both my uncle and I see the stone, the second sentence shows that my father doesn’t care if I see the stone or not, he only means for my uncle to see it.

See how that is different? Words need to be chosen carefully, because slight changes can have totally different implications. Famously, Ernest Hemingway claims to have spent days on single sentences to make sure they were perfect.

Another example. “My mother is very particular about chairs, so I could tell which one was mine.” vs. “I could tell which chair was mine, my mother is very particular about chairs. The difference here is a little more subtle, but not much. Where is the focus on this sentence? Focus and energy should be in the beginning of the sentence, because it determines the rest. So in the first sentence, the sentence is about my mother being particular about chairs. The second sentence is about me knowing which chair is mine. Your job, and mine, as the writer is determining which sentence is more important. Where should the focus be?

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