Playing With Words
By Dorothy Seehausen
“The horse raced past the barn fell.” Sound familiar? This is a classic example of what’s known as a garden path sentence, in which the initial interpretation of the sentence’s meaning is wrong because it contains syntactic ambiguity in the first half of the sentence, creating syntactic inconsistency with the rest of the sentence. Thus, multiple possible interpretations. “The horse that raced past the barn fell.” Better?
Garden path sentences often pop up in our first drafts. Not very many writers can coordinate the right brain’s creativity with the left brain’s editing tasks at the same time. Wouldn’t that be sweet – your first draft would come out completely edited, putting thousands of professional editors out of work!
In the real world, our goal as writers is to get the story from inside our head to inside the reader’s head. Being able to recognize your own garden path sentences is an excellent editing tool when you’re down into the weeds of line editing.
Here are some more examples from Effectiviology, which is actually a website about psychology and philosophy:
The old man the boat.
The girl told the story cried.
The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.
We painted the wall with cracks.
Happy Writing from the Frog!
Check out my latest short story “Trace” in the October issue of The Mantelpiece Magazine at themantelpiece.org.