I bet if I give you a sentence, you will immediately be able to identify its speaker. Ready?
“Dark the night is.”
Did you guess that 900-year-old pointy-eared creature, Yoda, from Star Wars? He never uttered those words in any of the movies, so what made you guess him?
Ah, his use of inversion. (Or maybe the huge photo above gave him away.)
Inversion is the reversal of normal word order in a sentence. Used to emphasize key points, it is one of the power techniques that adds intensity to writing.
The first and last words in a sentence are its power spots, so whatever you want to emphasize should be placed there. Yoda could have used traditional word order, placing “dark” in a power position, by saying, “The night is dark.” However, because the sentence is a common one with no shocking information, the reader is likely to gloss over its power. Moving “dark” to the alternate power position, in a syntax the reader rarely encounters, jolts him into reconsidering the word and its meaning. Inversion also tricks the reader into thinking the ugly, wrinkled old Yoda is powerful and wise. (You just keep showing us how clever you are, George Lucas!)
Yoda-speak will sound weird in your writing. Other types of inversion, though, can be effective in putting key words into power positions. Here are some examples:
- “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” —J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
- “Not in the legions
Of horrid hell can come a devil more damned
In ills to top MacBeth.” —William Shakespeare, Macbeth
- “Out of that business association grew the slogan, ‘Made by Edison and installed by Barnes.’” —Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich
- “In this room were gathered a small army of shockingly well-informed people from every corner of Wall Street—big banks, the major stock exchanges, and high-frequency trading firms.” —Michael Lewis, Flash Boys
How will you use inversion to emphasize key points?
- Take a normal sentence.
- Identify the key word(s).
- Reverse the sentence order so the key word(s) begin—or, even better, end—the sentence.
“Place key words at the beginning or end of your sentence to emphasize them.”
“Key word placement at the beginning or end of your sentence gives them emphasis.”
“Emphasize key words by placing them at your sentence beginning or end.”
An added benefit of inversion is that it increases your sentence variety and complexity, More interesting rhythms ensue, and your writing sounds more sophisticated without being snooty.
Powerfully creative may your writing be.
Photo credit: Wikipedia, from The Empire Strikes Back