Bridge to Story

'Absolutely' Better Writing

An absolute phrase:

A group of words that modify (add to) a compete sentence (Sentence/ Independent clause/ begins with a capital letter, ends with a period)

An Absolute phrase can come in the middle of a sentence.

    You set it off, from the core sentence, with commas before and after the added phrase. (Like I just did there).


    it can be added to the back of a sentence, tacked on as a further thought.

    (Like I just did there).

 In this lesson we’ll look at

  • Core sentences
  • What an Absolute is to better writing
  • Why we want to use it when telling a better story

Then we’ll try our hand and adding some of the Absolute Phrases to what you have already written.

Remember to be visual, visceral, and physical whenever possible - we're aren't adding words just to add them - we're doing this to show

Example Toggle


Here are examples of adding absolutes to an existing sentence (and why we do it):

Before: Joyce and Kim waited for the elevator at the mall together.

Show me something about these two girls. Add to this image of them, using action:

After: Joyce and Kim, each absorbed in only their own thoughts, waited for the elevator at the mall together.

Good. You used the absolute to draw an image of these girl’s character traits; they are each self absorbed. But you didn’t write they ‘were’ self involved, you showed it in their actions.

Another one -

Before: Shara sat on the lowest bleacher row in the gym.

First, show me something about the seat and then add your character’s reaction to that something you’ve shown. Do this by showing setting details:

After: Shara sat on the lowest bleacher row in the gym, its cold steel chilling her rear, making her shiver and shake.

Good. You used the absolute to draw an image of the seat (cold steel) and how she reacted to it (She shivered and shook). But you didn’t write ‘She is shivering and shaking on the cold seat’; you showed that reaction in –ing words, action verbs for the seat making her do something.

Now, let's see about adding this type of absolute edits in your own work. Remember - the goal is NOT to add more words - the goal is using the words you’ve added for showing, with images and actions.

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

The geese flew by.

First, show me something about how the birds look up there, use a comma and add something about their movement, another comma and then follow  with something about that movement:

Did you write something like this?

The geese flew by, silhouetted, in groups, up against the few clouds that grew pinker and pinker by the minute.

Get the picture? Because that’s what it’s all about – absolutes give us a picture, after we’ve stated something.  Absolutes don’t use state of being verbs, like - were, was, are, is, had, has. . And strangely enough, most of the added images you tack on with these absolute phrases might be lines you already have written.  They just need to be combined with your 'telling' sentence.

I lay in the dark. My ear was pressed hard against the sofa cushion. I was hearing something far off. But I was not really listening at all.

Let’s combine some of these by using them as absolutes in a longer, more rhythmic sentence. The trick is to remove the repeated pronouns and the were, was, are, is, had, has verbs from all but the first line:

I lay in the dark, my ear pressed hard against the sofa cushion, hearing something far off, but not really listening at all.

Because all four of these original sentences were talking about the same idea, (the character laying and hearing and not listening) it’s okay to string them all together like this into a 23 word sentence. Yes, that’s a longish line to read. But it’s only where your thoughts shift (from one idea to a new idea) that a longer sentence reads better being broken up.

Also, remember that we position these absolute phrases in the middle of a sentence or at the end because we first have to know who or what it is  we are talking about.  Give us the subject first, then tell us about it.

Here’s what happens when we put an absolute up front. Remember these absolutes are supposed to modify a compete sentence. If we put ‘the geese flew by’ between commas – it becomes the part we can remove and still have a full sentence. Have we done that here?

Silhouetted, the geese flew by, in groups, up against the few clouds that grew pinker and pinker by the minute.

Look to your own work now; try for the poetic sentence, the one that builds up a thought by adding more detail before, between, or after a comma.

Aim for showing us actions and reactions and character traits and images. Get rid of the sentences that follow a main idea, the ones that rely on ‘telling’ by using the state of being verbs.