The Segregating Style

At its purest the segregating sentence is grammatically simple, expressing a single idea.1 A segregating style consists of a series of such sentences. In practice the style is rarely confined

1. "Idea" is a slippery word. Here it means simply one subject plus one predication about that subject: The night was dark expresses a single idea. Most sentences consist of several: The night was dark, and it was lonely. Or, with the two predications more closely connected: The night was dark and lonely.

to technically simple, one-idea statements. That would be monotonous. Instead, a segregating style consists of relatively short, uncomplicated sentences, even though some of them may not be simple in the grammatical sense. Here, for example, a critic is describing how a particular novelist works:

He writes, at most, 750 words a day. He writes and rewrites. He polishes and repolishes. He works in solitude. He works with agony. He works with sweat. And that is the only way to work at all. Beverly Nichols

As this passage shows, a segregating style can be very effective. Short sentences are strong and repetitive, qualities exactly suited to Nichols's purpose. He wants to stress that writing often is—usually is—monotonous work. Such "fit" between sentence style and purpose is important to good writing. The same general point may be put in any of various ways, but no two of the ways will be the same, and only one will be exactly what you want to say.

Segregating sentences are especially useful in descriptive and narrative writing. They analyze a complicated perception or action into its parts and arrange these in a significant order. In the following passage W. Somerset Maugham describes a Chinese criminal being led to his place of execution (in colonial times the British vice-consul had to be present when the victim of the crime was English):

The judge gave an order and the vice-consul rose and walked to the gateway, where their chairs awaited them. Here stood the criminal with his guard. Notwithstanding his tied hands he smoked a cigarette. A squad of little soldiers had been sheltering themselves under the overhanging roof, and on the appearance of the judge the officer in charge made them form up. The judge and the viceconsul settled themselves in their chairs. The officer gave an order and the squad stepped out. A couple of yards behind them walked the criminal. Then came the judge in his chair and the vice-consul.

This is a fine example of a segregating style. The sentences are short and uncomplicated (even though three of them are not simple, and none treats only a single idea). They break the scene into a series of tableaux, each rendered without comment. The effect is to distance us from the action, yet the technique is not that of a callous observer, but of an artist willing to let the event speak for itself. Like all effective styles, Maugham's deepens meaning, shocking us into seeing that in the society he is describing life and death do not matter very much.

The segregating style, then, can be effective in description and narration. It is less useful in exposition, where you must combine ideas in subtle gradations of logic and importance. These subtleties cannot be conveyed by a series of short, independent statements, which treat all ideas as equally important.

Individually used, however, segregating sentences are valuable in exposition, especially set beside longer statements, where they will seem strong and clear:

Before election day he [Huey Long] predicted he would win if rain didn't keep the mud farmers away from the polls. It rained.

Hodding Carter

The first premise of the college elective system is that the subjects are of approximately equal importance. Well, they are not.

Brand Blanshard

Short sentences like these are emphatic and create variety. (More examples will be seen in Chapters 21 and 23, where we discuss emphasis and variety.) Every writer should be able to handle the short sentence to stress particular ideas and, when the occasion warrants, to compose brief passages in a segregating style. On the whole, however, the style is too limited for general use in exposition. In unskilled hands it soon begins to sound like a third-grade reader: Dick has a dog. The dog's name is Spot. Spot is a friendly dog.

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    What are the segregating style of writing?
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    What are segregating sentences?
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