Daily Archives: April 24, 2010

Altering Sentence Structure, Part 3

Nearly a year ago I did a short series of posts on sentence structure. I want to revisit this subject because, quite frankly, I see in my editing, manuscripts heavily dependent upon one particular construction or the other, whatever the author favors.

I have my favorites, too, so I’m not faulting anyone for going back to their best-liked forms. The problem is when an author goes back too often or in a sequence.

My favorite construction is the compound verb. This one is sometimes hard to pick up on because each verb potentially has its own object and describing words or phrases. Here’s an example from book one of The Lore of Efrathah (and I didn’t have to look long to find this example—first page, first sentence of the second paragraph):

    He turned his back on the afternoon crowd milling about their parents’ beach-side condo and lowered his voice.

You might think that construction is nearly invisible. I’d agree. But five more like it become rhythmically similar and therefore noticeable.

Here’s a passage from Raven’s Ladder (WaterBrook) by Jeffrey Overstreet, the CSFF Blog Tour feature next week. In brackets after each sentence I’ve added a note about the structure.

    The urgent need for a hiding place was what had brought the two outcasts together. [complex – noun dependent clause] Krawg had been running to avoid arrest. [simple] Warney had run to escape his sisters. [simple] Seven sisters, in fact. [fragment] All grown, they had never left home or the parents who babied them, and they shared their mother’s loathing for Warney. [compound/begins with an adverb describing a participle]

    What was it exactly that had made his mother treat him as a curse? [complex – adjective dependent clause/question] Warney shuddered to think of the accusations. [simple] To comfort himself, he affirmed that it was crazy for a parent to hold a grudge for some damage done in childbirth. [complex – adverbial dependent clause/begins with an infinitive phrase]

Notice the variety. The passage contains three simple sentences and three complex sentences, but none of the latter are structured the same.

In addition, for the most part, the various constructions have been mixed together. In the first paragraph, however, two simple sentences are back to back.

The effect is to make those sentences stand out. They are shorter than the others, and they have parallel construction. That is, they both start with a proper noun, they both have a single action verb, and they both have infinitive phrases following that verb.

Here’s the take home: by varying sentence structure, an author can then intentionally and purposefully repeat a sentence structure for effect.

My suggestion is to save one manuscript revision specifically to look at your sentence structure. If nothing else, you’ll avoid getting stuck in a rut of favorites.

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