Tuesday, January 12, 2016

TIP TUESDAY: VARY YOUR SENTENCE STRUCTURE

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

Here's a sentence structure I see frequently in manuscripts: The president tried to impose immigration restrictions, shutting down the borders.

What's wrong with this structure?

Nothing in particular--until I've seen it two hundred times in two hundred pages. If you think I'm picking on you and your writing, then maybe I am. I don't have a particular author in mind. I happen to see this structure A LOT in the books I edit.

Vary your sentence structures, please, unless you have a creative reason to repeat a structure. Your readers will thank you.

Using the same structure over and over and over and over and over . . . well, it's boring. Wake me up with your writing.

Consider this possibility: Write a paragraph with a few sentences that are about the same length, and when you reach an important point or a concept that's a surprise, write a sentence that's two words.

He strolled by the table as I ate my dinner. "You're fat," he said.

"I might be fat, but I can lose weight. You can't lose stupid."

I didn't see the knife behind his back until it was too late.

Blood ran.

Use some long sentences, too. In the future, we'll work on punctuation that makes sentences easier to understand.

If you like the sentence structure I used at the beginning of this post, go ahead and use it. But perhaps you can avoid using it in one paragraph after another.


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug

Thank you, fishducky.

38 comments:

  1. What you're saying is that if a lot of your sentences are very long, you should throw in a shorter one occasionally. OK!!

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    1. Yes, especially if you want to call attention to the words.

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  2. Feeling paranoid... oh wait! I specialise in run-on sentences, boy do I feel better! ;-)

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    1. Oh, I love attacking run ons. I'm a wild woman.

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  3. Is the top sentence a structure you see most often? Can you break it down like "noun verb subject verb noun," or whatever it actually is--I'm terrible at sentence breakdown, which makes concerned I'll fall into the trap of repeating sentence structure. When you're in the flurry of writing, how do you avoid such trappings?

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    1. This question will make a good one to answer on a Friday.

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  4. Variety is the spice of life in all things, including writing.

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  5. He told me "I'm Fat." So I plucked out his eyeballs with a spoon. he screamed in agony as I told him that he can no longer see me fat. I smiled. Good golly Merry Christmas and Happy New year:) I must have eaten some bad chocolate. Great advice!

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    1. Oh, Birgit, how you do make me smile. Would you please visit my ex-husband?

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  6. I probably do that way too much....

    My pet peeve when reading is overuse of the passive voice. Which naturally I overuse it all over my blog so I am a giant hypocrite.

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    1. Passive voice is so . . . passive-aggressive. If you intend for your blog to be casual and not for publication, then do whatever the hell makes you happy.

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  7. "You can't lose stupid." Thank you for this one and the hearty laugh it evoked. If only this weren't true!

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  8. I remember my 9th grade English teacher showing me this lesson. Thank you Mr. Wallace!

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    1. God bless Mr. Wallace. My ninth grade English teacher allowed us to write short stories once. She read a few of the best aloud. When she got to the last one, she said, Now this one is the very best. AND IT WAS MINE. It was the first time I thought that maybe my writing was okay. Thank you, Mrs. Alderson.

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    2. Mr. Wallace let us write stories instead of book reports, and seemed to really like what I wrote, which led me...to keep writing :)

      Thanks again Mr. Wallace.

      Aren't great teachers just the best?

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    3. My #1 teacher is a college professor: Dr. C. He's the greatest.

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  9. I'm starting to think that there is no hope for my writing! It's all so confusing.

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    1. Do you need to write for publication? Are you working on a book? Then hire an editor. I'm the slut editor: cheap and fast. If you write for fun, then don't worry about all this shit.

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    2. I write for fun but I have a publishing company that prints it for me but I have to market it. It is basically an expensive hobby.

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    3. If you need help, then I'm here.

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  10. I love the idea of changing it up. Your example of suddenly using a two-word sentence was very illuminating. I'll definitely use that!
    Great tip!

    Michele at Angels Bark

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    1. I'm glad you like it. We all need some variety.

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  11. I have always liked variety--so I do hope my sentences are charmingly varied. They are definitely spattered with my own personal form of punctuation (lots of parentheses and dashes). But only a mere blogger am I. ;)

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    1. Emily Dickinson had a great fondness for dashes!

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    2. Oh, how true! I forgot about that! Thanks--feel in such better company now. Whoohoo! You made my day. :)

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    3. She's one of my favorites. Tell the truth but tell it slant.

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  12. You definitely have to change it up. I get bored with sentences that use the same structure over and over and over.

    I liked Fishducky's contribution. :)

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    1. The world would be a lesser place without a fishducky.

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  13. I'd like to think I vary my sentences structures. There are a few times when I edit, a sentence will make sense, but seem bulky. I will try to rewrite it a few different ways till it sounds less clumsy and flows well when I say it out loud.

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    1. Sometimes I get going with a sentence structure, and I do it over and over. I just did it. I hooked two sentences together with a coordinating conjunction. I did that repeatedly in an article I wrote for Purdue's Writing Center Journal. I'm so embarrassed by it now.

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  14. Awesome advice. I know one of my issues was over use of the 'ing' verb. Now I am running to check my sentences. :D

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    1. Yeah, dude, I love ya, but you are one of my -ing authors.

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  15. Great advice that I definitely need to work on! This reminds me of this series of lectures I started watching and need to finish. It was called "Building Great Sentences" with a subtitle I can't remember at the moment. The instructor was actually fairly entertaining and he talked about different styles and challenged us to test different styles in our own writing.

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    1. Something cool I started doing well into my college career was writing essays somewhat in the style of the author who wrote the book about which I wrote the essay. Is that convoluted enough? After I'd done that for a while, I found an article (I think in College English) that said to try doing it. It was fun, especially for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man--my best essay ever.

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