Looking for a book to help you master the art of crafting perfect sentences? I encourage you to get your hands on a copy of June Casagrande’s It was the best of sentences, it was the worst of sentences. Here’s a short excerpt from the book that provides a simple but commonly overlooked principle.
“If you want to master the art of the sentence, you must first accept a somewhat unpleasant truth—something a lot of writers would rather deny: The Reader is king. You are his servant. You serve the Reader information. You serve the Reader entertainment. Only by knowing your place can you do your job well. You have a boss—a fickle, exacting, surprisingly slick one—and you can’t ignore him just because he isn’t physically reading over your shoulder. Good writing hangs in the balance.
Here’s another way to think of this: Your writing is not about you. It’s about the Reader. Even when it’s quite literally about you—in memoirs, personal essays, first-person accounts—it’s not really about you. When you forget the Reader, you get what I call writer-serving writing. It exists at every level of writing expertise. I’ve gagged on it when reading personal essays and caught whiffs of it in award–winning books and articles. I’ve been horrified to notice it in my own writing.
Writer-serving writing is perfectly appropriate in diaries and journals—but any writing that’s meant to be seen by a Reader must serve the Reader. This is the rule: whether you’re Christian, Jew, Muslim, or a disciple of the church of Penn Jillette, when you sit down to write, the Reader is thy god.
True, you can’t know everything the Reader wants. You can’t serve all the Readers all the time. And you shouldn’t try. But there is one thing all Readers want: clear, concise, comprehensible sentences that mean something to them.”