A Question of Style

During my long career as a technical and legal writer, my personal goal was to explain complex matters in comprehensive but still entirely lucid language, since to do otherwise could have led to serious human error and/or regulatory exposure for my company.  These objectives would seem to be at odds, since completeness and clarity may seek common ground but don’t always find it. Too much information can obscure the main point and too little can leave the reader guessing as to its intent, with potentially dire consequences in either case. Over the years I’ve tried to hone a writing style that walks a fine line between economy and thoroughness of expression. What started me down the path of reform in my writing was a critical observation from a colleague, who had run a sample of my work through one of the early style-analysis programs and came back with the verdict that my writing would require at least eighteen years of education to understand. Huh?

I admit to occasionally transgressing in this blog, since I’m paying for the privilege and can get away with it. I write mainly for myself now and enjoy the creative word-play. But when I write up my readings, whether in cartomancy or astrology, I scale it way back, striving for the same kind of conversational immediacy that I bring to a face-to-face reading session. This means no more than one paragraph with a maximum of three or four sentences per card and slightly more for each astrological factor. For example, where my natal horoscope analyses used to take up to twenty type-written pages to cover all facets of the chart, they now come in under four or five pages because I dwell on examining the key features that tie everything together (it’s called “chart synthesis”) and let the minor points go.

The same is true with card reading. When I perform a Celtic Cross, I lay all the cards face-up at the start, and – although I do walk through a card-by-card narrative – I aim for an initial  gestalt impression that lets the most important features jump out at me and then build the core of the reading around those. A write-up generally takes me between one and two typed pages. In the forums I’ve encountered explanations for a single card that would take up half-a-page if captured in a formal report, and frankly I tend to glaze over after the first couple of sentences. The rules of good exposition used to demand that the author state the main thrust of the piece at the very beginning and then elaborate on it only as much as necessary to support the premise.  I still find this prime directive to be sound and try to introduce each card with as vivid and trenchant a lead-in as I can muster.

By the way, my scrutability has now improved to between 11th-grade and college-level according to one of the newer programs, which is the demographic I’m shooting for anyway. But it still doesn’t like compound sentences and multi-syllable words, which are my stock-in-trade. Why use a period when a judicious comma, semi-colon, hyphen or parenthetical aside will suffice? But I promise not to go all stream-of-consciousness and dispense with punctuation altogether.

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