sentence-structure

A lack of conflict is a common problem in the work of many beginning writers. There are a number of ways to effectively add conflict to your novel and keep your readers turning pages.

It may help for you to think about conflict as complications. One problem many writers run into when they begin to write their novels is that they have an idea about the main conflict, but it is too easily resolved. For example, maybe the story is about a woman, Andrea, whose dream is to open her own Italian restaurant, but she lacks the funding and experience to do so. Then she meets an Italian chef whose brother wants to invest in a new restaurant, and before she knows it, she has her own restaurant and an experienced chef who can teach her everything she needs to know.

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The Importance of Sentence Structure

Spending time on the mechanics of sentence structure can make a huge difference in your writing.  Sentence structure is important, and as much as I don’t like writing blog posts on grammar, this is something all writers should know.  Learning how to vary sentence structure is a great skill to have and will save you frustration in the long run.

Here are a few ways to improve and vary sentence structure in your novel:

Vary sentence length

Do you see a problem with this paragraph? “Amy was tired. She stepped outside. There was a rabbit. It looked up at her. It ran away.” It’s pretty boring, isn’t it? (and awful). This paragraph is full of short, simple sentences, so it’s not very compelling writing. Maybe try this instead; “Amy was tired. As she stepped outside, she noticed the rabbit near the bushes. It looked up at her for a moment before running away.” Combining long and short sentences is crucial to building interesting scenes. Use sentence length to focus attention on something in a paragraph. You can make a sentence pop by keeping it short.

Learn about complex and compound sentences

A compound sentence consists of two or more independent clauses joined by conjunctions like ‘and,’ ‘but,’ and ‘or’, or they can be joined by adjectives like ‘however’ or ‘therefore. For example, “Amy wanted to go outside, but it was raining.” Combining two sentences instead of splitting them up is a helpful tool to keep your writing flowing.  

A complex sentence contains one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. For example, “Amy returned the computer after she noticed it was damaged.”

Understanding these types of sentences will help you improve your sentence structure and vary your sentence length. Learn how to effectively use words like ‘but’, ‘and’, and ‘or’ to combine two sentences that don’t need to be separated OR learn how to construct complex sentences that get your point across.

Cut the clutter

Avoid adding phrases that add nothing to your sentence and learn when to cut the clutter. If your sentences are too wordy, try to figure out what you can cut out. Learning how to tighten up your sentences is important. To do this, focus on what words you can use to say the same thing. Never say in a paragraph what you can say in a sentence. Try to cut filler words like this from your writing: just, very, really, maybe, perhaps, etc. They’re usually not necessary and they will help improve your sentences.

For example: “Amy was at the end of line” can be very simply changed to “Amy was last.”

Read it out loud

The best way to determine whether your writing sounds awkward or not is to read your writing out loud. If a sentence doesn’t look right, you need to hear if it sounds right. If you read out loud, you’ll be able to focus on sentence structure and whether or not you’re varying sentence lengths or using unnecessary words. Try it out!

-Kris Noel

Before
  • Before
  • Jeremy Zuckerman
  • The Legend of Korra: Original Music From Book One
Play

[Bryan Koneitzko] has some fantastic ideas. One was to make Before, the piece for the backstory of the brothers in Legend of Korra, a duet: the cello representing Noatak and the Erhu representing Tarrlok. 

~ Jeremy Zuckerman on creating Before [x] [x]

Legit Tip #149

So a while back, someone mentioned that they wanted to hear a bit more about structure in stories. There are a lot of different ways to talk about structure, but today we’re going to go over some of the basics and discuss sentence structure. 

Now, I’m gonna have to roll up my sleeves on this one, because there is a lot to cover. So get ready kids, we’re going in. 

The first thing that I feel I must point out is that regardless of what you’re writing, your primary goal when writing is to be understood. 

Unfortunately, far too many novice writers seem to believe that the complexity and maturity of their work is directly tied to the complexity of their sentences. Which is far from true. There’s nothing wrong with rich, complex sentences, but you should never be writing sentences that require a second, third, or fourth look in order to be understood. 

So, my first point will be this - ensure that all the components of your sentences follows a logical order. 

One of the most common mistakes among newer writers is attempting to tack participial phrases on to the front of their sentences in order to avoid starting each sentence the same way. This was one of my biggest mistakes when I started writing, so I know from experience. (If you don’t know what a participial phrase is, you can go back a ways and find a lengthy post about it). 

Essentially, a participle phrase is a phrase that modifies the rest of the sentence. It’s easy to spot because it typically opens with an “-ing” word. 

These aren’t ALWAYS bad. Where they become a problem (specifically) is where you describe a character performing two actions at once, or you make the order of events unclear.

Examples:

"Turning to face Lord Clemont, Valerie swung at him with her knife."

"Realizing the mistake she had made, Jane stood up abruptly."

Both of these sentences would benefit from the participle being removed and turned into their own thought, or at the very least an independant part of the sentence. Like so:

"Valerie turned to face Lord Clemont. Before he could speak, she swung at him with her knife."

"Jane realized the mistake she had made and stood abruptly."

Typically, you want sentences to follow a typical cause/effect order, especially if you’re describing certain sensations or saying something that might be confusing with the follow up information. 

"A sharp pain shot through Alice’s side as the waves pushed her against the rocks."

(On a side note, this kind of reverse cause/effect order can become especially problematic when you’re writing action scenes, as it leads to the same pacing issues as using passive voice. Basically, it bogs the scene down.)

Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to sentence structure is that a single sentence should (more or less) contain a single thought or idea. Even very complex sentences should have something central to them - something tying them together. 

Example of What Not to Do: 

"She shivered as she pulled herself from the ice cold water, and she wished she still had the thick padded clothes from the village, but they had been burned along with everything else at the campsite."

So in this example you have a pretty quick transition from the physical sensation of the MC pulling herself from the water to her thinking about a separate event. Breaking the sentence down and separating those ideas will give the writing a bit of additional clarity. 

Next up - learn how to identify and eliminate ambiguity from your sentences. The more creative you get with structuring your sentences, the more potential there is for sentences that make take a second or third look to understand fully.

One thing to keep in mind is that the greater the number of clauses and modifiers in your sentences there are, the greater the potential for ambiguity grows. 

Example: 

"Lana spent years working on her novel, but her family was not impressed."

Do you see the problem here? Is her family not impressed by her effort, or not impressed by the novel? So to get your point across you need to put the main idea a bit closer together, with additional details and modifiers in their proper place.

"Lana’s family was not impressed by the novel, even though she spent years working on it."

There’s obviously far more to sentence structure than I could possibly talk abou there. These are just a few examples I’m carting out because they tend to be fairly common among newer writers. 

At the end of the day, remember this - SIMPLER IS ALMOST ALWAYS BETTER. Even the most complex, beautiful sentences are built from simple components. Complexity does NOT mean deliberately confounding your reader with overwrought sentences.

Starting Every Paragraph with Names/Pronouns

Anonymous asked: I have an unavoidable habit of starting every paragraph with a character’s name or a pronoun. It gets annoying that I can’t seem to come up with alternatives other than using names/pronouns, and I just wanted to know if this habit should be treated as a problem, and if so, is there any way I can fix this?

If the habit is unavoidable, I wonder at your even bothering to try to free yourself of it.

In all seriousness, though, this is pretty common (I do it, too), and can be fixed, if one so desires, during the editing process. 

So, for your first draft, you might write something like:

Devon went to the park to meet Jodi, but couldn’t find her where they’d agreed to meet. It was starting to look pretty suspicious. 

And then you’d tidy that up a bit in your second draft:

Meeting Jodi got complicated fast. She wasn’t where they’d agreed to meet, but Devon thought she might have been only a few minutes earlier.

A few more quick thoughts on how you might changes things up:

  • You could use the first sentence to set the tone for the next few paragraphs (that’s what I did in the example above).
  • You could change the focus of the first sentence of the paragraph from your character to the setting or some detail that gives the reader more information about your character’s world.

    Luiz never took Highmore Street home because of the awful traffic. 

    Might become:

    Highmore Street was always a zoo at rush hour. Two school zones, dozens of restaurants, and no turn lanes made for bumper-to-bumper traffic from four o’clock in the afternoon until at least seven thirty. Single, childless locals like Luiz knew to avoid Highmore at all costs.

  • You could alter the sentence to have your character’s name or pronoun appear somewhere other than at the beginning without dramatically changing any information provided in the sentence.

    Brittany went to the store around the corner to get eggs before heading home.

    Might become:

    The store was just around the corner, so Brittany stopped by to pick up some eggs before she went home.

But really, if the old subject verbs noun thing isn’t working for you, I suggest you read up on sentence structure and bear structure in mind as you edit. All it takes is lots of practice!

Thanks for your question, anon! 

-C

Wordiness

Expanding on writeworld’s postOn Writing Well by William Zinsser is also a good read. Both entertaining and informative. It is written in first person and speaks from experience. I found that I could read it from cover to cover without once getting bored.

Chapter 3: “Clutter”:

…the unnecessary preposition appended to a verb (“order up”)…

…the adverb that carries the same meaning as the verb (“smile happily”)…

…the adjective that states a known fact (“tall skyscraper”).

…the little qualifiers that weaken any sentence they inhabit (“a bit”, “sort of”)…

…phrases like “in a sense,” which doesn’t mean anything.

…the [sentence] that repeats what the previous sentence said

…[the sentence that] says something readers don’t need to know or can figure out for themselves.

I find that the worst culprit for wordiness are the sentences that don’t need to be said at all. It goes hand-in-hand with the “show don’t tell” principle and has a high probability of making dialogue especially clumsy.

Most first drafts can be cut by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the author’s voice.

Active Voice

from Practical English Handbook, Fourth Edition by Watkins, Dillingham, and Martin

Rule of Thumb: Use the active voice except when the context demands the passive.

A transitive verb is either active or passive. When the subject acts, the verb is active. When the subject is acted upon, the verb is passive. In most sentences, the actor is more important than the receiver of the action. A weak passive verb makes a sentence flabby. 

  • WEAK PASSIVE: The huge iceberg was rammed into by the luxury liner.
  • STRONG ACTIVE: The luxury liner rammed into the huge iceberg.
  • WEAK PASSIVE: A good race was run by the Ferrari.
  • STRONG ACTIVE: The Ferrari ran a good race. 

The active voice helps to create a more concise and vigorous style, but the passive is useful for certain purposes:

  1. When the performer of an action is irrelevant or unimportant.

    The book about motorcycles had been misplaced among books about cosmetics.

  2. When the emphasis is on the receiver, the verb, or even a modifier.

    The police were totally misled.

anonymous asked:

How to avoid the overuse of 'I' when writing a first-person novel?

Try to write a short paragraph or two by starting every sentence with the last word of the previous sentence. This will exercise your sentence starter muscles so you’re not always starting sentences with “He…” or “She…” or in this case, “I.” 

Example: The morning sun was orange and red. Red-faced, I walked towards my friend, who was standing in the sunlight. Sunlight kissed his cheeks and his blond hair blew across his forehead. Forehead sweating, I took a breath and placed my lips on his. His kiss stopped my heart.

Give this a try. It’ll force you to think about other ways of constructing sentences.

Good luck!

-R

Wordiness

from Practical English Handbook, Fourth Edition by Watkins, Dillingham, and Martin

Rule of Thumb: Avoid redundancy.

Omit needless words and irrelevant ideas. Conciseness increases the force of writing. 

Accidents due to excessive speed often end fatally for those involved. (11 words)

Accidents due to excessive speed often end fatally. (8 words)

Use one word for many.

The love letter was written by somebody who did not sign his name. (13 words)

The love letter was anonymous (or, was not signed). (5 or 6 words)

Use the active voice for conciseness. 

The truck was overloaded by the workmen. (7 words)

The workmen overloaded the truck. (5 words)

Revise sentence structure for conciseness.

Another element which adds to the effectiveness of a speech is its emotional content. (14 words)

Emotional content also makes a speech more effective. (8 words)

Use one word, not two with the same meaning (tautology). 

Basic and fundamental principles. (4 words)

Basic principles. (2 words)

Study your sentences carefully and make them concise by using all the methods discussed above. 

However, do not sacrifice concreteness and vividness for conciseness and brevity.

  • CONCRETE AND VIVID: At each end of the sunken garden, worn granite steps, flanked by large magnolia trees, lead to the formal paths.
  • EXCESSIVELY CONCISE: The garden has steps at both ends.
Practicing: I don't want to [verb].

useful verbs:
하다 go
자다sleep
걷다 = walk
말하다 = tell
만나다see
보다watch
깨다wake up
자르다 = cut
앉다 = sit

useful nouns:
작업 work
 = home
 = him
그녀 = her
텔레비전tv
머리 = hair
의자 = chair

1. I don’t want to [verb] = [verb] -고 싶지 않아(요) 
• 난 작업 가고 싶지 않아요.  I don’t want to go to work.
• 지금 자고 싶지 않아요.  I don’t want sleep now.
• 난 집 갇고 싶지 않아요.  I don’t want to walk home.

2. I don’t want to [verb] = [verb] 것을 원하지 않아(요)
• 난 그녀 말하는 것을 원하지 않아요.  I don’t want to tell her.
• 난 그 만나는 것을 원하지 않아요.  I don’t want to see him.
• 난 텔레비전 보는 것을 원하지 않아요.  I don’t want to watch tv.

3. I don’t want to [verb] = [verb] -길 원하지 않아(요)
• 난 깨길 원하지 않아요.  I don’t want to wake up.
• 난 머리 자르길 원하지 않아요.  I don’t want to cut my hair.
• 난 의자 앉길 원하지 않아요.  I don’t want to sit in the chair.