"Some of the reactions were very amusing: one reader suggested that his firm might consider publication if I turned my Lolita into a twelve-year-old lad and had him seduced by Humbert, a farmer, in a barn, amidst gaunt and arid surroundings, all this set forth in short, strong, 'realistic' sentences ('He acts crazy. We all act crazy, I guess. I guess God acts crazy.' Etc.)." (Vladimir Nabokov)
Simplifying somewhat, a sentence is a group of words that expresses an idea. Here is an example:
(1) People are starting to wonder how a rebound might shape results in November.
Notice that part of this idea can be expressed in the form of a question:
(2) How might a rebound shape results in November?
That's what people are starting to wonder. But the first sentence itself did not express this wonderment; it said only that people are are starting to ask the question. If we really want to raise this idea in the form of a question, we can more adequately express this idea as follows:
(3) How might a rebound, people are starting to wonder, shape results in November?
(2) differs in substance from (1) and (3), the difference between (1) and (3) is a question of style. The idea you are trying to express helps you decide not to write (2), but it does not help you choose (1) over (3).
(1) is actually only part of a sentence that James Surowiecki wrote in his financial column in the New Yorker. Here is the whole paragraph:
Given high unemployment and flat wages, no one is going to be singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” any time soon (even if the tune was F.D.R.’s theme song). But we’ve now had three straight quarters of growth, and last month saw the creation of more than a hundred and fifty thousand jobs. That prompted the Harvard economist Jeff Frankel, a member of the committee that officially declares when recessions begin and end, to declare the downturn over. So, with the midterm elections just seven months away, people are starting to wonder how a rebound might shape results in November.
Even such straightforward writing is the result of a great many stylistic decisions, many of which the experienced writer does not even make consciously. To see what I mean, let's try to isolate the core propositional content of the sentences in this paragraph.
Unemployment is high. Wages are flat. People will remain unhappy for some time. The economy has grown for three straight quarters. Last month more than a hundred and fifty thousand jobs were created. Jeff Frankel has declared the downturn over. Jeff Frankel is an economist at Harvard. Jeff Frankel is a member of the committee that officially declares when recessions begin and end. The midterm elections are seven months away. People are starting to wonder how a rebound might shape results in November.
Next week, we will look at the important role that Surowiecki's "but" and "so" played (easily seen by what happens when we remove them). Today, I want to draw attention to the way Surowiecki arranges the substance of his paragraph around certain key propositions so that he doesn't really say many of these things, but merely mentions them in passing. If we cut all this supplementary information out, we would get the following sentences:
People will remain unhappy for some time. The economy has grown for three straight quarters. Last month more than a hundred and fifty thousand jobs were created. Jeff Frankel has declared the downturn over. People are starting to wonder how a rebound might shape results in November.
I am going to assume a "command of English" that would allow you to write those sentences. The true art of composing a sentence is what brings us from here to the sentences that were actually published by the New Yorker.
Writing sentences that are publishable in the New Yorker is a pretty good goal, but I've run out of time this morning, so we'll have to continue on Wednesday.