An Author's Guide to Sentence Variety
As my #writerssupportingwriters blogs have been very popular (links to all of them at the bottom), I thought I’d tackle another area that the #writingcommunity might find of use: adding variety to your sentence construction.
This blog isn’t designed to take you through simple, complex and compound sentences. Nor am I going to give you a grammar 101 lesson on clauses and subordinate clauses. What this blog will do is give you some practical ways you can add variety to your sentence structure so that your story is more enjoyable to read.
Why do I need to think about my sentence construction?
Good writing is crafted and shaped; writers follow grammatical rules set up to make the reading process easy and enjoyable.
Of course, writers also break these rules… (If you have read James Joyce’s Ulysses then you will know what I mean!) but unless you are a gifted genius who will break ground with your first novel, or you are already a well-established author, readers (and publishers) expect grammatical rules to be obeyed.
Readers want a novel to whisk them away from the realities of life and if a book is error filled and sentence structure and vocabulary is repetitive, the reader falls out of the pages with a bump.
What’s worse they may close that book.
It’s a known fact that many readers stick with an author they like; if a reader bought a book from Nora Roberts and enjoyed it, the chances are they will buy another, and another of hers. They return again and again.
The opposite is also true. Turn off your readers and they won’t return… or recommend you to their friends.
A recent review I received for The Guardians’ Trust: Siana said:
“The attention to detail is second to none, and for that reason, I can’t wait to read more". Long and Short Reviews.
For a writer, this is high praise indeed! Details matter. Phrasing matters. And while I won’t pretend to have all the answers (and I am certainly far from perfect), I can pass on some practical tips that you can add to your repertoire and employ at your leisure.
But isn’t this what editors are for?
A good editor is worth her or his weight in diamonds, but their job isn’t to change your writing. An editor will help you improve your book in many incredibly useful ways (I am definitely a better writer thanks to my editor Audrey!) but they won’t change your writing. Editors will correct punctuation mistakes and point out where your phrasing needs attention, but they won’t alter sentence construction or improve vocabulary for you.
How do I improve my ability to vary my sentence construction?
Humour me and think back to your school days for a moment. Perhaps your English teacher wrote targets in your exercise book like:
Target - Remember to vary your sentence beginnings to add interest.
Target - Your sentences start with the words He/She or Then frequently. Remember to start your sentences in different ways.
Target - Remember, to hit C grade you need to add variety to your sentence structures. To hit the A you need to include a range of assured and accurate sentence types.
If you received similar targets to the ones above, your reaction may have been one of confusion. After all, if you knew how to vary your sentence beginnings you would have done so. So, what did your teacher mean? HOW do you vary sentence beginnings?
An educator called Alan Peat has broken down sentence types into wonderful, practical rules you can follow to hit these teacher targets.
Here’s a breakdown of my favourite Peats’ pearls of wisdom (to learn more visit http://www.alanpeat.com/):
A B.O.Y.S sentence
A B.O.Y.S sentence is a two part sentence. The first part ends with a comma and the second part (after the comma starts with but, or, yet, so = BOYS).
Her dress was too tight, but she wouldn’t be wearing it for long!
She could accept his proposal, or she could run like hell.
You get the picture 😊
A Verb, Person Sentence
A verb, person sentence starts with a verb (giving that verb more importance). The verb is followed by a comma and then a personal pronoun (he, she, they, I etc.) followed by the rest of the sentence.
Groaning, Steve captured her lips with his.
Laughing, she met his gaze.
Emotion Word, (Comma)
An emotion word comma sentence begins with an emotion followed by a comma. After the comma there is information about the action caused by the emotion. Placing the emotion first gives the emotion more weight.
Startled, she pushed him away.
Appalled, she ripped up his letter.
A 3_ed Sentence
A 3_ed sentence starts with 3 adjectives that end in ed and describe emotions. Each ed word must be followed by a comma.
Aroused, thrilled, excited, she beckoned him closer.
Exhausted, frustrated, scared, he backed towards the door.
A 2 Pairs
The 2 pairs sentence starts with two pairs of related adjectives. Each pair is separated by a comma and each pair is followed by a comma.
Delighted and thrilled, focussed and determined, she let him lead her onto the dance floor.
A De:De Sentence
A De: De sentence is a compound sentence where the two independent clauses (i.e. simple sentences) are separated by a colon. The first clause is descriptive and the second clause adds detail.
He wanted her: She was the love of his life.
If, if, if, then Sentence
This is a summarising sentence that uses groups of three. A comma is used after each clause.
If she’d danced with him, if she’d accepted his letter, if she’d agreed to meet him in the orchard, then they’d be engaged by now.
3 bad- (dash) question?
This type of sentence starts with a list of three negative adjectives followed by a dash (-) then a question which relates to the three adjectives.
Selfish, ruthless, arrogant – what had she ever seen in him?
Although this is a negative sentence formula, I don’t see why you can’t use the same technique for a positive.
Handsome, wealthy, generous – how was he still single?
The more, the more Sentence
The first more is followed by and emotion. The second more is followed by an action linked to the emotion.
The more angry she became, the more books she threw at him.
A Short! Sentence
Three words with an exclamation.
He loved her!
She’d divorce him!
Like all literary devices, the above would be used sparingly. There is nothing wrong with a sentence stating The or She, but too many, especially in a row, makes a stilted read. Using some of the techniques above might just help you mix things up a little.
Oh, and don’t forget your similes, metaphors and personification use – these forms of comparison are visual and evoke images we all carry around with us (blogs to follow!).
If you found this blog helpful you might also like:
To find out about my novels click here and visit my books page where you can find the blurb for the first five books in the romance series.