03 August 2007

Somebody Stop That Sentence!

While reading a recently published book, I stepped on a sentence that crunched so badly it made me cringe. (Not my first such experience.) In the American edition it appears on page 93:

The room was just as messy as it had been all week; the only change was that Hermione was now sitting in the far corner, her fluffy ginger cat, Crookshanks, at her feet, sorting books, some of which Harry recognized as his own, into two enormous piles.
Crookshanks is said to be part kneazle, which might explain why he's intelligent and hard-working enough to sort books like this.

Even before that ambiguous modifier, the sentence's fourth word "just" had also appeared in the previous sentence with a slightly different meaning, producing a bit of verbal discord. And anytime a modern novelist sees a semi-colon in a manuscript, that should be a warning to consider breaking up the sentence instead.

Which might produce something like this:
The room was no cleaner than before. But now Hermione was sitting in the far corner with her fluffy ginger cat, Crookshanks, at her feet. She was sorting books, some of which Harry recognized as his own, into two enormous piles.
And you know what? The second version's six words, or over 12%, shorter. In a book over 700 pages long with over ten million copies in print, that can add up.


Karen El said...

I don't think they wanted to reduce the page count. In fact it appears to be in a larger typeface than previous books in order to keep it a similar doorstop size.

J. L. Bell said...

The American editions of books 4, 6, and 7 are all in 12-point Garamond, and the text block and leading seem to be the same.

Book 5 is in 11.5-point Garamond, so Scholastic squeezed a bit more onto those pages. But that one seems to be the exception, not the rule.

Lee said...

Don't insult the semi-colon. I love them!

J. L. Bell said...

A well-chosen semi-colon is a wonderful thing. But, like adverbs ending in -ly, semi-colons are also easy to find during revision, offering the opportunity to decide whether they truly are well-chosen. In this case,...