Syntax Critical

Last night, I came across this sentence in a mystery novel:

The little Adelie penguins who congregated on Cape Royds each spring and laid their eggs and raised their broods had had to walk sixty kilometers across the ice to find the krill that formed the bulk of their diet instead of a few meters.

Notice how “instead of a few meters” dangles at the end, doing no useful work. That’s because by the time the reader reaches it, the phrase it relates to–“sixty kilometers”–is a distant memory.

To give “instead of a few meters” something useful to do, promote it to a new position:

The little Adelie penguins who congregated on Cape Royds each spring and laid their eggs and raised their broods had had to walk sixty kilometers across the ice– instead of a few meters–to find the krill that formed the bulk of their diet.

The novel the original sentence appeared in isn’t just a mystery yarn. It’s also a treatise about the impacts of global warming, a critical issue to be sure.

Writers who long to alert readers of critical issues need to give careful attention to syntax. Otherwise, readers stop reading before getting the message.

Questions? Comments?

Tara Treasurefield
Tara’s Writing Studio

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About 123clear

I translate foggy information into plain English.
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