I was on a forum for writers recently, and there was a thread about sentence structure that I posted an answer to. Now, staring blankly at my blog, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be useful to others as well. So, this will be the first of a few posts on writing tips.
Using a better sentence structure is a habit. Pick one or two things to focus on remembering, don’t try to do it all at once. Focus on those one or two things for 3-6 months until it’s habit, then choose another thing to focus on.
Some easy fixes:
- Never use the same word to start two sentences in a row. [Emphasis, or speech can be an exception to this, but is generally not recommended.]
- Try not to use the same word to start a sentence twice in the same paragraph. [Sometimes it’s impossible to write it without doing that, but generally it flows better if you can avoid it as much as possible.]
- Never use the same word to start two paragraphs in a row.
- Occasionally substitute names for pronouns when pronouns get overwhelming. [He bumped the lamp. It fell over. vs. Carl bumped the lamp. It fell over.]
- Use various descriptors in place of pronouns sometimes. [Carl bumped the lamp. It fell over. vs. Carl bumped the lamp. The orange glass monstrosity fell over.]
- Don’t go back and forth between two or more characters in the same paragraph, if possible. You wouldn’t put two characters’ lines in the same paragraph, so don’t do it for the rest of their ‘stuff’ either.
- ‘When’ and ‘After’ are common enough words, and common words are fine, but when you see them, check to see if you’ve used them recently. If you have, pause and see if there’s a different phrase that works as well or better. However, if there isn’t, don’t worry about it. Common words are actually easier to read, as long as you don’t try to literally drown your reader in repetitions of them.
- When you use an uncommon word, double check to make sure you are using it in the right context and spelling it right. That’s all you usually need to do. Looking up a word now and then doesn’t harm a reader. On the other hand, limit your number of uncommon words, because no one wants to read a novel with a dictionary in their other hand.
And a few [verbatim] addendums by my friend Intyalle:
- Emphasis aside, of course. Repetition, when used right, is a very effective tool.
- Similar to the repeating words in a paragraph. You should try to avoid repeating names in the same way. It’s actually kind of more critical for names, because they garner so much more attention than the rest of the words. If you shuffle the paragraphs correctly, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about characters of the same gender.
- Also, w/ regards to not mixing characters in the same paragraph, there’s an addendum there, too.
The same way that you start a new paragraph each time a new character talks, the talking is actually meant to start the paragraph. You’re not meant to start a talking paragraph with action, which sometimes necessitates appending one character’s actions onto the paragraph of another character’s speech. Especially if you can’t boil down the actions to a single sentence (you can get away with occasionally *one* sentence before speech… not really more).One should start a new paragraph each time a different character speaks, but for dialogue paragraphs normally one begins the paragraph with the speaking, though one may also end the paragraph with the speaking. This is because, if you bury the speaking part in the middle of the paragraph, it is easy to miss and hard to follow. If possible, putting descriptions and actions in the middle of the paragraph, putting the speech bits on the beginnings and ends is best for easy flow of reading. One can get away with a single action/reaction sentence at the beginning of a dialogue paragraph, if it’s not too long a sentence, or occasionally two sentences, if they are short enough. Sometimes, though, in order to avoid burying a bit of dialogue or to otherwise avoid awkward flow, one ends up appending an action/reaction sentence from the character in one paragraph onto the paragraph following. Which leaves you with the action/reaction of one character in the same paragraph as another character’s dialogue.