The Book In 3 Sentences
- All languages are made up of two parts—picture words and connecting words.
- Construct your sentences in a way that is easy to understand.
- If you have something to say, say it well.
Book Summary + Notes
The bricks and mortars of a sentence
Ditch the Grammar
Forget the nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Just remember the two types of words—picture words and connecting words.
Picture word is a word that shows itself. For example:
- Things: Ship, book, Germany, New York City, Betty…
- Actions: Hit, sleep, procrastinate, hike, cook…
- Colors: Red, yellow, green, black, rainbow…
- Size: Tall, wide, short, narrow, thin…
- Details: Torn, organized, embroidered, slowly, meticulously…
- Feelings: Joy, love, indifferent, hate, sad…
- Judgement: Wrong, negative, dull, interesting, good…
- Ideas: Truth, justice, liberty, democracy, ego…
Incomplete words that don’t mean anything by itself. It is used to connect the picture words—to provide the settings and to show the direction of your thought flow. Some examples are:
- Space: in, on, under, to, from, above, below…
- Time: before, after, until, during, when, while…
- Cause-and-effect: because, since, if, as…
- Identity: am, is, are, was, were, has been…
- Pointer: the, that, this, there, those…
- Roadsign: but, and then, however, although…
- Condensing: he, she, it, them, their, we…
Join up the bricks and mortars
Determine your picture words and use the appropriate connecting words depending on what details you want to give to your picture words.
Use connecting words to give details about the picture words in your sentences.
Talk about space
- I went into the house.
- I went out of the house.
Talk about time
- I ate before the surgery.
- I ate after the surgery.
Talk about identity
- I am a doctor.
- I was a doctor.
Talk about the cause-and-effect
- Because I fixed it, it is working.
- Although I fixed it, it is not working.
Talk about the state of something.
- She has been president of the club for five years now. (she still is the president.)
- She had been president of the club for five years. (she is no longer the president.)
Use connecting words to show the direction that your flow of thought is going to take within your sentence.
When your flow of thought is a straight line.
- He is a nice man, and I am going to marry him.
- I went for a walk, and then took a cab back home.
When your flow of thought changes direction.
- He is a nice man, but I am not going to marry him.
- I went for a walk, but then I didn’t walk back home.
Use connecting words to prompt expectation.
- If you shout, she’ll be scared.
- Until I met you, I was happy.
Use connecting words to change the meaning of the picture word.
- Action: Lift—to raise something.
- Thing: The lift—a British elevator.
- Action: Run—to move fast.
- Thing: The run—a long hole in a woman’s stocking or a score made at a ballgame.
Use connecting words to Specify something.
- This is a woman I am talking about. (generalise.)
- This is the woman I am talking about. (specify.)
Structure your sentences for easy reading
Sentences that are easiest to understand are short, simple, and clear. To make your sentences more digestible, remember to:
Keep it short and simple
Don’t overload your sentence with details.
- ❌ Yesterday at eleven o’clock, I hit that miserable son-of-a-gun Harry.
- ✔ Yesterday, I hit that miserable son-of-a-gun Harry.
Use condensing connectors to reduce the number of words in the subsequent sentence.
- ❌ The handsome young knight in shining white armour rode up to the castle. Then the handsome young knight in shining white armour imperiously knocked at the gate.
- ✔ The handsome young knight in shining white armour rode up to the castle. Then he imperiously knocked at the gate.
Remove ambiguity in your sentence
Write in a way that your sentence only has one meaning.
- ❌ When a boy, my father gave me his watch.
- ✔ When I was a boy, my father gave me his watch.
- ❌Would you like to sweep the floor with me?
- ✔ Would you like to help me sweep the floor?
- ❌ Would you like to join me in a cup of coffee?
- ✔ Would you like to join me in having a cup of coffee?
Keep related words together to help readers identify the relationship between them.
- ❌ And then he saw, as the carriage turned the corner of the road, Melinda running up the road toward him.
- ✔ And then, as the carriage turned the corner of the road, he saw Melinda running up the road towards him.
Or simplify the sentence—break them up and then link them with connectors.
- ✔ And then the carriage turned the corner of the road. And he saw Melinda running up the road toward him.
After the first sentence, start the subsequent sentences with a connector that links them to the previous sentence.
- ✔ Yesterday, I hit Harry. And then I hit him again.
- ✔ Yesterday, I hit Harry. Because he’s a low-down rat.
- ✔ Yesterday, I hit Harry. But today we’re friends.
Reorganize your thought flow
After you have written your sentences, leave them for a day. And then come back to them cold the next day. If you can understand each of them instantly, fine. If you can’t, simplify.
- They stood forming a wall around the bucket where the drops of water were producing ripples that would move from the center to the edge one after another.
Step 1: Break it down.
- They all stood fascinated.
- forming a wall around the bucket
- where the drops of water were producing ripples
- that would move from the center to the edge one after another.
Step 2: If the sentence is clear, leave it. Otherwise, add connectors or picture words.
- They all stood fascinated, and formed a wall around the bucket.
- In the bucket, the drops of water were producing ripples.
- These ripples would move from the center to the edge one after another.
Remember, if your reader has to stop in the middle of the sentence, it is not simple enough—simplify it.
Develop your flow of thoughts
What are you trying to tell your readers? Here are 12 ways to elaborate on your core idea.
A common technique used by every story, every novel, and every movie. It is simply the technique of taking an actor and putting him through a series of actions in time.
- Vroom! The sky breaks and drops of water begin to fall, tapping Harry on the top of his head. It wasn’t long before Harry began to run in the pelting rain. He raced towards a nearby store and pilfered a shelter.
A person’s motives for doing something, and the reasons why something is so.
- Despite knowing earlier in the day about the storm from the weather forecast, Harry did not bother to bring along an umbrella because he was too lazy to look for it in his messy home.
Causes for an event
It deals with objective events, rather than personal feelings.
- The recent stock market crash was caused by the following factors:
- Tight money. WHich limited the funds available for corporate expansion.
- Declining earnings in various former “growth areas” of the economy.
- A subsequent collapse of investor confidence in a perpetual growth economy…
Effects of an event
It shows the effects in the future of the event, just as the causes showed its growth in the past.
- As a result of the crash, the following effects were felt by the economic community:
- The immense profits made by Wall Street suddenly stopped.
- Public offerings of stock for new and untried firms dried up.
- Price-earnings ratios (the evaluation of future earnings by the market) were drastically reduced…
How an event unfolds
Is the appearance of the event as it has unfolded itself at the moment.
- The first faint warnings of the impending decline were felt in December of 1968. At that moment the Dow-Jones Index topped out, at 988.
Month after month thereafter, it slipped lower and lower—moderately at first. But then, in January 1970, the rate of decline steepened. And a growing gloom, and then panic set in…
In the above example, the words serve as a movie camera, seeing only the surface of the event. They do not probe beneath the surface, just as description of a person does not probe beneath her surface appearance, or examine her motives.
Show the difference between the core idea you are describing now, and another one.
- How different were these dismal months from the holiday mood of the late sixties.
Then, stock prices climbed almost every month. Old standbys increased by half their value in a year. Growth companies shot up four and five times. New issues often trebled the very first day they were offered to the public…
Here you go from the general to the specific. From principle to application. From abstract to concrete. To do this, you slow down the pace, and fill in the details.
- Perhaps the perfect example of this catastrophic change is Ling-Temco-Vought. When it first came out in 1963, it traded at 3. In the ensuing years it climbed to 35…46…67…109…132…and finally. Without pause, to 168.
Then came the panic, and it began its long downward slide. Millions upon millions of dollars of value simply evaporated away from it. Until finally, on May 15, 1970, it closed at six quarters…
This is the process of bringing in proof to your thought-flow. This proof may consist of quotations from respected authorities. Or statistics or other figures. Or tests.
- Was this slump as disastrous as that of 1929? Just listen to the words of the nationally respected economist John Kennet Galbraith:…”
And then you would reproduce Mr. Galbraith’s words as he spoke them. Or, if you wish, abridge them to give the heart of their meaning to your reader as quickly as possible.
This is the process of teaching someone how to do something. It consists of presenting a number of steps, one after another, so that a task may be completed correctly from beginning to end.
Take note that
- Each step should be made as small as possible
- Each step should be in the proper order.
- All steps should be included.
- The goal of the process should be mentioned at the beginning, and again at the end.
- Most people do not know how to open a book. Here is the right way:
First, take the book in your heads, and open the front and back covers till they are parallel with the binding.
Then close the book again. Then take the first ten pages, and bend them out till they are parallel with the binding…
Then take the last ten pages. And bend them out in the opposite direction till they are parallel with the binding…
The process of telling someone how something works.
- Here is how a camera works:
First of all, it has a lens. A lens is a piece of specially constructed glass that lets light in from the outside world to the inside of the camera.
On the inside of the camera, at its very back, is a roll of film. This film changes when light from the lens hits it. And, when that light hits it, it reproduces the exact scene that the lens sees, right on the film.
So you point the camera at a scene you want to capture—let us say, the face of your child. And then you let the light from that scene come through the lens into the camera. And that light falls on the film. And the film changes. And that light falls in the film. And the film changes. And you have the face of your child, captured forever on that film…
Introducing the new in terms of the familiar. To make new things familiar, and familiar things new.
- A lens is a piece of specially constructed glass that lets light in from the outside world to the inside of the camera.
- Sleazy is grimy. Or dirty. Or filthy.
- Running a country is like running a marriage. You can’t build it on lies.
Working out a conclusion from its premises. Start with known facts, and combine them to gain facts that were unknown when you started.
- All men are human. Aristotle is a man. Therefore, Aristotle is human.
- The little boy is crying. That woman over there is running frantically around, as though she had lost something. I wonder if he couldn’t be lost, and she couldn’t be his mother.
Add Tone To Your Words
To avoid monotony, add variety and emphasis to your sentence.
Vary your sentence structure
Elaborate your picture words.
- I itch.
- I have a terrible itch right here beneath my left shoulder blade.
or shorten your sentences.
- She stood frozen with her eyes wide open.
- She froze, eyes wide.
Use metaphor in your sentences.
- ❌ The ship moved through the water.
- ✔ The ship plowed through the towering water.
Emphasize your main point
Signal to your readers that what you’re going to say is important.
- “Pay special attention to this point…”
- “These are the two easiest ways to improve your writing:….”
Repeat the main idea so that your readers won’t lose sight of the original thought.
- If you want to master mathematics, you must learn one thing. To take each problem step by step. Step by step. Step. By. Step.
- To be consistent, you have to do it today. You have to do it tomorrow. You have to do it next year. You have to do it throughout eternity.
Make your words stand out
Bold or italicize the important point.
- The key to success is to be consistent.
- To improve your writing, you need to practice more.
Turn your thoughts into quotes
Quotes are stickier when they exist in the form of epigrams—a short punchy sentence in which the content is strengthened, dramatized, and witty.
To create epigrams, look for contrast of the main word (pivot word).
Contrast between two words with opposite meanings
- ❌ He who praises everybody reduces the value of that praise to almost nothing.
- ✔ He who praises everybody, praises nobody. (everybody-nobody)
Contrast between two opposite meanings of the same word.
- ❌ I think that this country is running downhill, and things are getting worse every day.
- ✔ There has been a lot of progress during my lifetime, but I’m afraid it’s headed in the wrong direction.
- ❌ Not every human problem can be solved with an easy solution.
- ✔ There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Unlike Strunk’s strict principle of terse writing, Schwartz was more lenient towards the usage of words where he agrees to using as many words as needed to convert your thoughts into simple and easy-to-understand sentences.
In this book, Schwartz focused on practical steps rather than the theory of constructing simple or punchy sentences and developing your core ideas—he doesn’t tell you what to do. He tells you how to do it.
Under Schwartz guidance, you need only remember the two grammar parts—the picture words and the connecting words. So if you’re not into verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, you’ll find this book likable.