Simple Sentences, Beautiful Prose.

I want to pass on a lesson that I have had to learn several times over, the hard way.

Beautiful prose, powerful prose, poetic prose, is built on a foundation of simplicity.

This is not to say that there aren't situations that call for more complicated sentence structures. There are. But many beginning writers assume that producing high level writing calls for torturous sentences with intricate structures and obscure words. And nothing could be further from the truth. 

When I was a high school student, I was lucky enough to have an excellent teacher. The kind of teacher that you remember for the rest of your life. He defined poetry as the ultimate distillation of human language. And he's right; if you look at some of the most beautiful poetry that mankind has produced, you will find clear, high impact language embedded in simple structures. 

There's a reason for this. Writing in almost all its forms is an act of manipulation. In fiction and in poetry, the goal of the writer is to provoke a specific emotional reaction in the reader. In order to accomplish this, you have to pack as much punch into your writing as you can. So think of the sentence as a volume of water, and the meaning that you intend to impart as a substance dissolved in that water. In order to get the greatest impact, you want the most substance in the smallest possible volume of water. 

This means short, simple sentences. You're not here to showboat. This isn't about you. It's about your reader.

Sure, you may be eager to show off your chops with long, arduous sentences, peppered with semicolons; you may feel the desire to link together many different ideas in one sentence, possibly because you feel that they are all related to some brilliant central theme that is buried in your manuscript and of course also a part of your master plan for domination of the literary world; you may recklessly abuse punctuation in order to achieve long sentences, jamming together phrases until nobody's exactly sure what it is you're trying to say... in fact, you may even do it because of a sincere dedication to grammatical rules with which you desire to be in accordance.

But don't. That, that mess up there? That's about you. 

This isn't about you.

It's about your reader.

So take your ideas, and put them into separate sentences. Don't worry, they'll still be linked by proximity. Your reader isn't an idiot.

Learn the rules, and then disregard as needed. Yes, even those you happen to agree with.

Simple words can be powerful. Use them like a fist, and punch your reader in the face. Don't pugilate them in their countenance. 

Given a choice between two simple words, pick the most powerful one. Sometimes a fire is embers, sometimes a fire is flames. It is only rarely an inferno and almost never a conflagration.

Seriously, you'd better have a damn good reason for using conflagration. Don't make me come to your house.

This simplicity doesn't just make individual sentences more powerful; it also makes your pacing much easier to control. The adjustments you make to the length of each scene and each fragment of each scene are finer. You can make the reader wait to build a little more tension, or you can take their breath away with a series of feints and blows. 

That's it. That's the secret to beautiful prose. Take it, and go forth. May you never miss an opportunity to make your readers laugh or cry.