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How to Transform Any Sentence So It Jumps Off the Page


stuart scott
A legend…gone too soon.

Stuart Scott’s death hit me harder than I expected.

When I saw the news on ESPN the morning of January 4, I stopped in my tracks, sat on the couch and reflected for a while. The broadcaster, who died of cancer, had been a mainstay on ESPN for 21 years. That means when he first went on the air, I was 9.

I’m sure I speak for a lot of people our age — guys and girls — when I say I don’t know sports without him.

Until Scott came along, most sportscasters had the same routine. Then he introduced a whole new flair with phrases like “Boo-Yow!” and “cool as the other side of the pillow.”

See, when you go one layer deeper than everyone else, you end up in a class by yourself.

In honor of Scott’s life and legacy, today’s News To Live By is how one layer deeper can transform everything we write.

How to Transform Any Sentence So It Jumps Off the Page

The most vivid writing has multiple layers, and you don’t need to be a famed novelist to employ the strategy.

Here’s a line you might find on a cover letter:

“After college, I taught English at a school in China.”

OK, interesting experience. But look what happens when I add a detail.

First Layer

“After college, I taught English at a school in rural China.”

Now we picture the person in a remote location. Before I added “rural,” we pictured…well, nothing. We just imagined a person who taught somewhere on a map in China.

Second Layer

“After college, I taught English speaking skills at a school in rural China.”

Again, the story becomes more appealing. Now we envision the person teaching a class of people to speak the English language.

Third Layer

“After college, I taught English speaking skills to a group of 25 school-age boys at a school in rural China.”

The plot thickens once more. The person taught children to speak English — and a lot of them.

Fourth Layer

“After college, I taught English speaking skills for one year to a group of 25 school-age boys at a school in rural China.”

Fifth Layer

“After college, I taught English speaking skills for one year to a group of 25 school-age boys at a school in rural China, over 1,000 miles from the nearest major city.”

Wow. That IS remote.

The sentence at the beginning:

“After college, I taught English at a school in China.”

The sentence now:

“After college, I taught English speaking skills for one year to a group of 25 school-age boys at a school in rural China, over 1,000 miles from the nearest major city.”

Which sentence is more interesting? Obviously the second one.

Yes, I often write how brevity matters but not at the expense of telling your story in full.

To add layers, ask yourself WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW (also the six most important words in networking).

“After college, I taught English at a school in China.”

WHO did you teach? A group of 25 school-age boys

WHAT did you teach? English speaking skills

WHEN did you teach? For one year

WHERE did you teach? Rural China, 1,000 miles from the nearest major city

Quiz yourself like a news reporter and explore the sentence from all relevant angles.

More layers = more interesting.

 

Share a favorite sentence of yours that has “layers” in it!

Featured post: Tamara Evans (Flickr)

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