Birds or Binoculars?

Don’t waste your sentence’s key part.IMG_7501 2to3

by Andy Scheer

Today as I edited a manuscript for busy moms, I thought of birds and binoculars:

Specifically, I thought of an illustration that taught me how the words a writer places at the end of a sentence stick in a reader’s mind.

Here’s the illustration, by Robert Elmer in the former Christian Writers Guild’s course for pre-teen writers:

Look carefully at these two sentences:
1. Thousands of birdwatchers came to see the black swans land.
2.
When the black swans landed, thousands of birdwatchers came.

Are both sentences correct? Yes. But do they mean the same? Not really. Read the sentences aloud, and see what pictures come to mind.

Whatever comes at the end of a sentence is usually what people see. If you want readers to remember birds landing, write sentence a. But if you want readers to see people with binoculars, use sentence b.

A decade later, I’m still using that advice. In a manuscript for perfectionist moms, I encountered this:

And there are many days when my life belongs to such tender sweetness. Days when I find myself overwhelmed by the grace of God in the midst of uncertainty. When my daughter reaches out to hold my hand.

As I read the second sentence, I thought of birds and binoculars. Though the author ended with “in the midst of uncertainty,” that wasn’t her main point. She wanted to emphasize “the grace of God.”

So with a few other tweaks, I switched the sequence of those clauses:

Yet many days, my life belongs to such tender sweetness. Days I find myself, in the midst of uncertainly, overwhelmed by God’s grace. Days when my daughter …

Uncertainty or grace, birds or binoculars, “whatever comes at the end of a sentence is usually what people see.” As you edit your writing, make the right choice.

About Andy Scheer

With more than 30 years in publishing, Andy Scheer has provided freelance editorial services since 2010. He has edited fiction and nonfiction for publishers including Moody, WinePress, and BelieversPress, as well as for clients including Dirk Cussler, McNair Wilson, DiAnn Mills, Heather Day Gilbert, and Sammy Tippit.
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