Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Writer Tip #19 -- Varying Sentence Structure

She crossed the room and picked up her journal. She flipped it open to the first page and began to read. She had been so young then. She was a student in med school, not the seasoned doctor she was now. She sighed. She thought about all that had happened since she graduated. She wondered what her life would have been like if she had gone to beauty college instead.

Notice anything about the above paragraph (other than it’s another perfect example of my corniness?) Every sentence starts with the word “she.” It gets kind of boring, doesn’t it?

Whether or not your reader consciously picks up on it, if the sentence structure is not varied, they will get bored. Their subconscious recognizes the repetition and lulls them into a sleepy state before they even know what’s happening.

Let’s try that paragraph again, and this time, let’s spice things up a little bit.


She crossed the room and picked up her journal. Flipping it open to the first page, she began to read, amazed at how young she had been then, a student in med school and not the seasoned doctor she was now. She sighed, thinking about all that had happened since she graduated. What would her life have been like if she had gone to beauty college instead?

Notice what I did? I took some of the fragment sentences and stuck them together. I varied the sentence structure and I made her “wonder” into an actual question in her mind.

We could even take this a step further and say:

She sighed, thinking about all that had happened since she graduated. What would my life have been like if I had gone to beauty college instead?

This change shows her thought as taking place in real time, and we get a glimpse inside her head.

Some authors shy away from starting a sentence with an “ing” word (as in, “Flipping it open to the first page”) I’ve asked many authors and editors for their opinion and basically, it boils down to personal choice. I don’t have a problem with it and I find it helps me in my quest to vary the sentence structure. However, you wouldn’t want to use it all the time, or the same mind-numbing phenomenon will occur as did in the first paragraph.

Also make sure that you vary how your paragraphs start, as well. If you’ve got eight paragraphs on the same page, make sure they don’t all start with the same word. You could probably get away with two in a row starting the same, but three is a no-no.

In summary, shake your paragraphs up a bit. Experiment with your word construction. Keep your reader’s mind alert by varying structure and being just a bit unpredictable.

2 comments:

Keith Fisher said...

I hope you don't mind my copying all your advice. You should keep it up and put it in a book. thank you for the help

Tristi Pinkston said...

Sure I don't mind -- I'm glad it's helpful.

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