Beginnings and endings count more than middles.
Consider this sentence: “I have never felt more frustrated.” The intensity of that statement can be heightened by moving one word to the beginning.
“Never have I felt more frustrated.”
If you move two words forward in the following sentence, you sharpen your tone: “You have asked me twice now to respond to your requests on short notice.”
Here there are two candidates for relocation, both of which convey annoyance: twice now and on short notice. The latter phrase, however, already occupies a position of natural stress at the end of the sentence, so try moving the other phrase forward.
“Twice now you have asked me to respond to your requests on short notice.”
Can you hear the difference?
The same words presented in a different order deliver the message with more emphasis. Like word choice, word placement is a powerful tool. Use it to your advantage.
Because sentence openings are an opportunity for natural emphasis, take care in how you word them. Launch your sentences economically. Don’t lead off with wordy expressions such as in the event that or in order to.
Compare “In the event that you miss your plane, take the train” with “If you miss your plane, take the train.”
Likewise, compare “In order to improve your writing, listen to the sound and rhythm of your words” with “To improve your writing, listen to the sound and rhythm of your words.”
To practice taking advantage of opening emphasis, eliminate wordiness and move the dramatic words and phrases forward in the following sentences:
1. Hugh, with his old gray eyes feverish, broke off a long twig from a chokecherry bush.
2. Hugh slowly slipped away into delirium. (Hint: Leave delirium in its position of closing emphasis.)
3. He was awakened by a cold touch.
4. There was something that had moved against his good side.
5. It was a rattler.
6. If he moved the least little bit, he’d have a batch of rattler poison in his blood, besides all the rot he already had in it.
7. He lifted the bad leg while grimacing and cursing.
8. He felt pain that filled him from tip to toe.
Here’s how Frederick Manfred wrote those sentences in “Lord Grizzly”:
1. Old gray eyes feverish, Hugh broke off a long twig from a chokecherry bush.
2. Slowly Hugh slipped away into delirium.
3. A cold touch woke him.
4. Something moved against his good side.
6. The least move and he’d have a batch of rattler poison in his blood, besides all the rot he already had in it.
7. Grimacing, cursing, he lifted the bad leg.
8. Pain filled him from tip to toe.
So use those stress points to heighten your emphasis. As the writer, your job is to decide where the emphasis goes, so put it where you want it.
Now repeat after me: “I will never forget this technique. Never will I forget this technique.”
Stephen Wilbers offers training seminars in effective business writing. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.wilbers.com.