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Friday, March 29, 2013

How to Vary Sentence Beginnings in Writing


So you’ve performed all sorts of edits on your manuscript. Your plot is solid and based on a good structure. Each of your characters has unique and complete internal and external arcs, etc. Now, it’s time to get down to the nitty gritty business of line editing, in my opinion, the most grueling aspect of edits.

In a previous post, I covered how to eliminate being verbs. Today, we’re going to take a look at how to vary sentence beginnings to help spare the story from sounding repetitive. If most of your sentences begin with “He” or “She,” you are likely to bore your readers long before they finish your book, if they finish. And even if they stick with the story to the end, the unnecessary repetition will likely have distracted them from a deeper appreciation for the tale.

Here are a few tricks to eliminate that feeling of repetition:

1) Vary the types of sentences from simple, compound, and complex. If you find that you have a lot of simple sentences, combine a few to make them compound. If most of your sentences are compound, break a few up to make them simple and add in a few dependent clauses for variety.

Before variation: Sir Galahad was a brave knight. (Simple sentence) He rode throughout the kingdom. (Simple sentence) He righted wrongs. (Simple sentence) He was a man of purity and faith. (Simple sentence) He became one of few to attain the Holy Grail. (Simple sentence)

After variation: Sir Galahad was a brave knight. (Simple sentence) He rode throughout the kingdom, and he righted wrongs. (Compound sentence) As a man of purity and faith, he became one of few to attain the Holy Grail. (Complex sentence)

2) Occasionally, move the dependent clause of a compound sentence to the beginning.

Dependent clause at the end: Sir Galahad became one of a few to attain the Holy Grail as a man of purity and faith.

Dependent clause at the beginning: As a man of purity and faith, Sir Galahad became one of a few to attain the Holy Grail.

3) Alter the subject of a sentence. This can be done in two main ways. First, use a different noun for the same thing. For example, “Sir Galahad” can become “he” or “the knight.” Second, add a sentence that has nothing to do with your man subject (usually your hero), but has something to do with the environment or something he notices. For example, Sunlight glared off the white of Sir Galahad’s shield. Blood red marked its center.

4) Rearrange your sentences. If you have three sentences in a paragraph and the first two begin with the same word, see if you can slip the third in between them.

Before switching sentences around: Sir Galahad was a knight of Camelot. Sir Galahad’s father was Sir Lancelot. His origins were dubious, but his nobility was immediately plain.

After switches sentences around: Sir Galahad was a knight of Camelot. His origins were dubious, but his nobility was immediately plain. Sir Galahad’s father was Sir Lancelot.

Do you have any tricks to help cut down on repetitive sentence beginnings?

Remember: There are only 3 days left in the March Fairy Tale Giveaway. Make sure to get in before time runs out Sunday at midnight.

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