Sunday, August 30, 2009

Put on Your Copy Editing Crown--er, Hat

Let me say right off the bat that I love long sentences. When they work. There's nothing more glorious than reveling in well-chosen words that take you from Point A to Point B with fullness of purpose.

When they don't work, I want to snatch the writer's keyboard and shout "Stop it! Stop it now!" I would probably even ban the author from writing until he or she had scrawled "I will not write run-on sentences" 100 times on the chalkboard.

Last night, I came across an article that had me reaching for the writer's keyboard. Warning: It's about a baseball game. And I know that the style of sports journalism is way different from fiction. But a lead sentence is a lead sentence. No matter what you write, lead sentences serve the same purpose: Hook the reader.

Here we go:

Backed into a corner once again and provided the stiff challenge of facing Eagles ace Ralph Amason, the Couriers once again displayed a sense of resiliency that conquered the previously dominant southpaw and led them to a 9-1 rain-shortened win over the Eagles at Johnson-Freeman Park on Saturday night that was called after 7 1/2 innings.

That, my friends, is one sentence. 57 words. Try reading it out loud. Did you run out of breath? I thought so. The next sentence is marginally better: 42 words.

Joe Anderson's three-run homer and Matthew Morgan's two-run homer highlighted the five-run fourth inning that doomed Amason and provided the comfortable lead that Lowell Baker preserved on the way to earning his first win in his past three starts.

Thank goodness, the rest of the article was much easier to read, and in fact, was a pleasure to read. Of course, sports writers have deadlines that you and I would simply laugh at, so I'm cutting this author a lot of slack.

However, if I had been the copy editor for these two sentences, this is what I would have done:

Backed into a corner once again and facing Eagles ace Ralph Amason, the Couriers displayed a sense of resiliency that conquered the previously dominant southpaw. The 9-1 rain-shortened win over the Eagles at Johnson-Freeman Park on Saturday night was called after 7 1/2 innings. Joe Anderson's three-run homer and Matthew Morgan's two-run homer highlighted the five-run fourth inning that doomed Amason. The runs provided the comfortable lead that Lowell Barker preserved on the way to earning his first win in his past three starts.

25 words in the first sentence, 20 in the second, 20 in the third, 23 in the fourth. Not great writing and not short sentences by any stretch, but at least they're easier to read. And we won't even go into what I really wanted to do, which was something along the lines of:

With his heart pounding against the taut muscles of his chest, the Couriers' batter stepped toward the plate and lifted the bat to his shoulder. He refused to think that his team was once again backed into a corner. "It's just between you and me, Ace. Come on. Give me your best pitch..."

How about you? Would you have left the sentences alone? Edited them differently? Or would you have laughed and said "Who cares about baseball anyway? I just want to see the guy with taut muscles." :-)

8 comments:

Carla Swafford said...

The LAST ONE!!! LOL! That was so funny. You go, girl.

Callie James said...

I'm definitely all about those muscles. And such drama! LOL

M.V.Freeman said...

I also vote for the last one!That's the way to do it! And it definitely caught my eye...

Christine said...

There's a sports section in the newspaper? I thought that was the GQ section :)

Cari Hislop said...

I like your version! Those eternal sentences nearly sent me into a coma...

Jennifer said...

Great rewrite! I love the muscles!

JoAnn said...

Haha! Thanks for your comments, ladies. Hmmm...perhaps this is the beginning of a new book!

Diane Richmond said...

I definitely would be reading the article and commenting on his writing ability, or lack thereof. Then, I would re-write it in my mind and continue to scoff. Finally, reality would set in. He was employed as a writer, I am struggling to become employed as one. With that humbling bit of mental clarity I would hope that I would move on to how good those guys looked in their uniforms.