One Hundred Words, Three Sentences

This is an editing exercise, using the power of constraint to liberate some creativity but also as a diagnostic to see what long sentences might be trying to tell us.

Start by finding a long sentence in something you’ve written – usually longer than 60 or 70 words. Break that sentence into exactly three sentences and expand until you have a total of exactly 100 words. For extra challenge you can mandate that one of the three sentences be quite short, like 7 words long.

The point of this exercise is to notice when, or if, a long sentence is something that you needed to get traction on something complex you were trying to say. A lot of the time in initial drafting we’re able to rush through something in order to allow ourselves to get it out, but it might be that there are actually a few different explanatory or argumentative “moves” happening in it, and our readers will benefit from us slowing down a bit.

Here’s mine, for example:

Original, long sentence:
“Implicitly, this focus assumes that the people trying to kill the Earth and its inhabitants are the people making bad or selfish lifestyle decisions – or, at least, it does not hone in on the greenhouse gas emissions of industry, mining, fracking, alongside the complex situations of volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and the melting of sea ice that currently captures greenhouse gasses.”

Edited, three sentences in one hundred words:
“Implicitly, this focus posits that what is killing Earth and its inhabitants are the people making bad or selfish lifestyle decisions, and that the solution we need thus requires individuals to change their lifestyles. This approach does not identify the greenhouse gas emissions of industry, mining, fracking, alongside complex situations like volcanic eruptions, forest fires, and melting sea ice that currently captures greenhouse gasses as core issues to address. It does not allow us to analyze complex issues such as the trade-offs between mining rare earth minerals used in solar power generation and storage and the carbon costs of petroleum.”

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