Thursday, November 3, 2016

Writing help: Sentence Variety

When I first started to write books, I had no idea what sentence variety was.  I wrote subject-verb sentences.  I wrote the first Extreme Travel book and showed it to a friend of mine.  She scoffed at my writing, telling me to mix up the sentence structure.  HUH?

Thus, I began to study what the 'experts' did.  I found that the rhythm of the sentences is very important.  Short sentences should be mixed with longer sentences.  The sentences should vary according to how they begin, as well.

So, instead of the following:

Jim went to the store.  He bought milk and bread.  He saw a woman he knew in the dairy aisle.  She was blonde.  He'd dated her in high school.  He left the store with her.


How about:

Jim went to the store to buy milk and bread.  While he strolled into the dairy aisle, he noticed a blonde woman he knew in high school.  They spoke.  The temperature seemed to rise, so Jim left with her, to rekindle a love that once was.

A little bit better?

The start and structure of each sentence will give the varied rhythm to make it more of an interesting story to the reader.  Here are some different starts to the sentence:

Using one-word modifiers:
-- start with an adjective (Blue tears covered the lake.)
-- start with an adverb (Fortunately, the rain stopped.)
-- start with a participle (Crying, she closed her eyes.)  NOTE:  Not my favorite.

Using phrases:
-- start with a prepositional phrase (At halftime, the quarterback cheered.)
-- start with a participial phrase (Sitting near a tree, she looked upward.)
-- start with an infinitive phrase (To be honest, I had no idea he was interested.)

Using clauses:
-- use subordinate clauses (Until I get my license, I won't drive much.)

I also learned to use short sentences when you want to up the drama/tension.  Compound sentences are great, but make sure they're not run-on sentences.

Rhythm of the passage is important.  Read it out loud and see how it sounds.  It should be interesting, varying in length and style, and make the reader want to keep going.

When writing:

  • vary the length of the sentence
  • vary the start of the sentence (use adjectives, adverbs, phrases, and participles)
  • figure out the rhythm of the passages by saying them out loud.

Have a great day!
Sweet Tale Books

 'English Grammar and Composition' by John Warriner, Mary Whitten, and Francis Griffith.  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1973.

Strategies for Variation
Sentence Variety (
Sentence variety (grammerly)
Sentence Variety II
Sentence variety (English club)
sentence variety (composition)

No comments:

Post a Comment