Power Positions

     Whether you’re writing exposition, opinion, or fiction, you want your prose to have power. There are a number of maxims about this, for example the dictum to prefer the active voice and strong, active verbs. Another is the advice to avoid overdecorating your sentences with modifiers and subordinate clauses – i.e., to let your chief nouns and verbs “do the work.” But another that’s often overlooked is respect for the power positions in your sentences, paragraphs, and scenes.

     In prose structures, the positions of greatest impact come at the end. In a way, this capitalizes on the reader’s tendency to hold most tightly to the last thing he reads. A sentence whose Sunday punch comes at the end is more likely to make the reader sit up and take notice. The same is true of a paragraph or a fictional scene.

     Another way of exploiting the end of a paragraph or scene is to make your final sentence brief. Brevity, coupled with strong sentence structure, enhances impact considerably. Consider this sentence, which comes at the end of a lengthy paragraph laden with assertions of troubling facts:

     The rule of law has drifted away from the rule of fact.

     Wham! That’s from the introduction to Peter Huber’s book Galileo’s Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom. Huber, an engineer who’s also a lawyer, hits the reader right between the eyes with that gem. It states the thesis of his book with maximum concision.

     Have another example, from a novel I edited for a friend some time ago. (No, you haven’t read it.) Serbian terrorists are attempting to penetrate a Croatian maximum-security prison:

     “Why wasn’t my ID badge checked at the front door, Sergeant? We practically walked right in here! Is this what you call a secured area? Where is your senior officer?” Divac scowled angrily. The sergeant looked over the colonel’s shoulder and cast an evil scowl at the corporal.
     “He’s below. In the vault, sir,” came the NCO’s reply.
     The sergeant moved aside as the colonel stepped past him. Divac whirled, put the silencer to the base of the sergeant’s skull and ended his watch with a single round.
     A nod to Usov, and the Serb slammed and locked the door behind him.
     They were in.

     The sentences get shorter and punchier to the end of the passage, amplifying the impact of the action described.

     This practice takes practice. Early in a writer’s odyssey, he’s apt to overlook opportunities of this sort. That’s especially the case for those of us who tend to overwrite. The best countermeasure is criticism from more experienced writers, coupled to a willingness to rewrite.

     If you have something important to say or a good story to tell – you do, don’t you? – making maximum use of the power positions in your prose is a good way to make it memorable…and, hopefully, convincing. Otherwise, why write at all?


    • MrPink on May 17, 2024 at 8:48 AM

    Nice write up on writing.  This is also testing your new login via wordpress, which has kept me from commenting on other articles.


    Perhaps a short post could be written about the new login and the need for the additional security? I recall you’ve been having trouble with some bad actors.

    Best Regards

    1. I know it’s a nuisance to have to log into the site. I’m going to return to the previous regime and hope that the comment-spam will be manageable henceforward.

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