Sentence Structure

Show, don’t tell. How many times does a writer hear that advice? And as a corollary, use the active voice, not the passive. The idea is, especially in this fast-paced society, readers want action—immediate, on-stage, before-your-eyes action.

The problem this can pose for the author is bland writing, created by an over-reliance upon the same old subject-verb sentence structure.

Here’s my suggestion. Take a look at a page from your work in progress and see how many sentences start with a noun or pronoun (the, a, an or possessive pronouns don’t count).

I pulled out one of my old, unpublished short stories and rewrote a bit to illustrate.

Cassie slammed the book shut and pitched it onto the coffee table. Her heroine didn’t have a clue what trapped really meant. Justin would undoubtedly be along to rescue poor stranded Debby in the next chapter. But who would rescue Cassie?

She checked her watch.

Except for the conjunction in the fourth sentence, each of these starts with a noun or pronoun (in bold type). Consequently, each sentence has the same basic construction. Granted, the first has two verbs and the second is complex, with a dependent clause embedded inside, but that’s not a lot of variety.

Now imagine this basic sentence-verb structure dominating a 1500 word story? Or an 85,000 word novel. Here’s the point, in an attempt to be clear, a writer can actually become tedious.

The solution is simple. Work to vary the kinds of sentences you use. Next time we’ll look at some ways to alter sentence construction.

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