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3 Tips for Creating Sentences with Punch

A Supreme Court lawyer-turned-thriller-writer on crafting sentences with punch.

By
Anthony Franze, read by Mignon Fogarty,
March 16, 2017
Episode #560

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Most people wouldn’t think that writing legal briefs for the U.S. Supreme Court and penning thrillers would require similar writing skills. But after representing clients in more than thirty cases before the Supreme Court—and with the release of my third novel, The Outsider, this month—I can attest that it’s true.  

In both mediums, you’re telling a story (one real, one fictional). In both, you need your audience to believe what you’re saying. And in both, you want the reader eagerly to turn the page. 

Whether you’re crafting the critical opening line of a brief or facing the daunting first page of a novel, it all starts, as Hemingway said, with “one true sentence.” Here are three tips for creating sentences with punch. 

1. Start Sentences with And or But

The best legal and thriller writers understand that, regardless of what your elementary school teacher said, it’s OK to start a sentence with a conjunction. Starting with and or but isn’t just grammatically correct, it’s a mainstay of expert writers.  

Proof is easy to find. Read the latest decision of the Supreme Court, a brief from a top high court advocate, or the first page of the latest Grisham novel, and examples of sentences starting with and and but abound. The late Justice Antonin Scalia, considered one of the high court’s great writers, said, “I love But at the beginning of a sentence, and I never put However” at the beginning. He felt the same way about starting with and.  

But why the preference for and and but over their cousins in addition and however? Because and and but are shorter. And they don’t require a comma, giving a sentence more flow, more verve. 

Consider this passage from Robert Frost’s famous poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep.

And miles to go before I sleep.

It just wouldn’t have the feel if Frost had said, 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

However, I have promises to keep.

In addition, miles to go before I sleep.

2. Shorter Is Better

General Motors once used the slogan “Wider Is Better” to promote its wide-track vehicles. I’m not sure the company sold many Pontiacs, but I remember the silly commercials, so maybe you’ll remember a variation for sentence structure: Shorter is better.  

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