That sentence jams a cactus into my brain, triggering wild buzzing and a whirl of obsessive thoughts.
Even if the story I’m reading is sweet and beautiful as a cactus blossom, when I hear any variation of “All men are not tall”, my brain revs up like an angry hornet. I know the intention: to contradict the clearly false idea that all men ARE tall. The literal meaning of that sentence is that no men are tall. Obviously that’s as false as the initial statement. The world is full of men of a wide range of heights.
The accurate meaning is “Not all men are tall.” Or, “Men are not all tall.” But hey – I know you could find a better way of stating that within the context of your story.
I saw that opening sentence in a review of Jenny Davidson’s book, Reading Style: A Life in Sentences. The review quotes that inflammatory sentence from the first chapter of Tankard’s book.
How, you ask, would I edit that sentence? That’s a fair question. The real message of that sentence is better stated in the second: “Some (sentences) are more interesting, more intricate, more attractive or repellent than others.” I’d omit the first entirely.
But then I’d have to address the fact that neither sentence has anything to do with the rest of the lengthy paragraph. Oh my!
I would not write off a book based on a single sentence, no matter how annoying, but that sentence triggered my "the rest of this better be extraordinary to overcome that transgression” button, and I just showed you that further exploration did not stand the book in good stead. Had that brain thorn not been there, the awkward paragraph probably would have slipped by unseen.
Brain thorns tend to poison a reader’s outlook. Hopefully my rant will prevent you from planting this thorn in your stories, even though I may be the only person on earth vulnerable to its sting. Write what you really mean and your stories will sing.
This is only one example of a multitude of brain thorns. This one is personal and stabs deep. Awkward writing and sloppy checking, like typos, missing commas, or confusing I/me or its/it’s are less distracting to me, but thorns nevertheless.
Are you aware of brain thorns as you read? Join the conversation and tell us about yours in a comment.
Right now: Delight readers by using Grammar Check to remove brain thorns from your writing. Grammar Check is often wrong and can be a distraction if you leave it turned on, but do run it before your final save. Find its location on Word’s Review tab ribbon and use it to check a few old stories. You may be surprised what you find. Ask trusted friends or your writing group to check for thorns that slip past your eyes and Word’s functions.