November 11, 2009
Dos Equis beer has a commercial campaign about a fictional character known as "The Most Interesting Man in the World."
My favorite begins with a rich announcer voice who says "People hang on his every word, even the prepositions." That line makes me laugh every time. Then again it might be because I've had the prepositions beaten out of me.
I know — I spend a week telling you to write freely and now I'm giving you words and parts of speech to stay away from. You can use prepositions, just don't load sentence after sentence with long strings of prepositional phrases. It's so easy to do and it just lulls your reader to sleep.
We're watching out for the kind of sentences where the readers eyes keep moving because there are plenty of words on the page to move him forward but he's stopped paying attention. He wakes up two paragraphs later and realizes he has no idea what he's just read. We want this to happen less often and we want the reader to stop and go back to where he lost the story line and not just shrug and move forward or stop reading.
Strings of prepositional phrases can feel like the even bumps of a long bridge on a hot afternoon after lunch. Then again, they can paint a nice picture. Use them. Just do so wisely.
This post originally appeared in the Pragmatic Life blog.