Bridge to Story

Sentence Structure

Usually more than two unintentional long sentences in a row signify wordiness.  Beginning every line in the same manner, repeating a pattern of syntax (the way you use your words), is also something to watch for. All of these are issues of sentence structure.

Watch how you begin sentences – always a noun?

Watch for sentence forms that sound the same in rhythm. You'll notice that they might have nearly the same number of words. If you don’t have a specific reason for a passive sentence construction (writing dialogue for a boring speaker, word choices for emphasis, simplification, as in purposefully ‘removed’, less involved style of narration), then go ahead and work to change up the intentional voice you write in.

Your Before Voice:

Maybe you start sentences with a character’s name a lot, followed by was or is.  That’s you telling the reader things about this character. So unless this speaker is a narrator who is also a character in your story, and this is her opinion of another character- a shift to a more active voce allows you to tell a story about this character instead of telling ‘things’ about her. And that might be as simple as not using the state-of-being verbs.

Jennifer is considered the one who’s clean and reliable. Jennifer is the one who gets the perks from mom all the time.

 

Your After Voice:

Here, the lines mean the same thing, but the structure of the original lines are now mixed up to work more, and sound less full of story-facts.

Mom considers Jennifer the one who’ll clean house and act reliably. So all the perks around here never come to me, it’s always Jennifer.

Example Toggle

Example:

Before:

 The girl ran her hand along the magazine: New Brides. (10 words)  The title jumped at her; ‘Life in the Wedding Lane’. (11) The article promised any new bride could survive wedding madness.(10)

Every one of these three lines begins with an article (the) and is followed by a noun (girl, title, article). And they seem to be about the same length.

We’re told things are happening. But where is that image for the reader to see for herself? You can bring that image to your reader’s eyes with just a few edits.

  • Put your character into the action.
  • Combine lines where you can. Use action verbs.
  • Recognize your own default when it comes to sentence structure.

After:

 Seeing the New Brides magazine, she felt the article ‘Life in the Wedding Lane’ jump out at her, promising steps for survival from her wedding madness.

Excercise Toggle

Excercise:

We've discussed letting you revise your default sentence structure for a more active voice. And we've talked about how you tend to begin your sentences (in default mode). Now let's look at one more sentence structure point before trying them all on your own work.

You might try to mix things up and alternate things for a better mixture of long and short sentences:                      

Before:

There was no escape from Vita’s unspoken words: 'You idiot' ricocheted through the car. (14) Pauline twisted in her seat and searched the Mall’s exit doors out of the back window. (16) She chanted, over and over to herself as she searched, ‘Where was that boy?’ (14)

After:

There was no escape. (4) Vita’s unspoken words: You idiot ricocheted through the car. (9) Pauline twisted in her seat and out of the back window she searched the Mall’s exit doors. (16) Where was that boy? (4)

Look at your work. Same length sentences? Run a word count on three of your own paragraphs. Are most of the lines the same length? (all of them have between 6 and 10 words?) If yes, then you could use more variation in how you structure your lines.

(*) thanks to Marsha Fazio, of Arizona State University, for some of this Topic material

Did you notice that these types of edits rarely make you delete your words? Most of the time, they cause you to re-arrange, reconsider, or re-structure what is already there.