Monday, October 24, 2005

Diagramming Sentences

This month's issue of Writer's Digest has an article on diagramming sentences. Now, I realize that almost everyone hated doing this in school -- at least, I know essentially every one of my friends complained loudly and at great length about it. It does take some measure of time to diagram a complicated sentence, I will admit. But I have a confession to make:

I always loved it.

Now, this was long before I decided to be a writer, and I don't think the fact that I actually like diagramming sentences had anything to do with my career choices. But there is something almost magical about how a hideously complicated sentences can be presented in an orderly, precise form. Oh, sure, there are practical advantages. For example, knowing where to place commas is easy if you know what phrases are of what type. Diagramming the sentence forces you to determine this. If you have diagrammed the sentence, you have a deep understanding of the structure of that sentence, of how it does it's job. This Writer's Digest article even pointed out how the resulting diagram can reveal strong and weak points in your prose, something I've never really considered, but after reading this article I can certainly see how it would work that way.

In the end, though, diagramming every sentence in your story is impractical and not really worth the effort. For me, diagramming gives the same satisfaction as solving a good crossword puzzle. There's a magic in seeing everything fit together. The fact that it also gives me greater insight into the tools of language -- and unarguably necessary thing for a writer -- is just a bonus!

No comments: