Search This Blog

Catching the Rhythm

I recently put a book down because long strings of sentence fragments were a turn off. My brain kept looking for the missing noun or verb. I will never know if the thriller became thrilling, because I never made it past the first chapter.

Poor sentence structure creates speed bumps that make for a jarring read. Writers are advised to vary sentence length. Many are left asking, "How?" Some have forgotten the basics of how to construct sentences in the first place.

Sentences form the background melody to your story. It is important to craft them like a pro.  Let's go over a few sentence structure basics.

Simple and compound sentences are the workhorses of your chapters. Alternate them for a satisfying base melody.

1) Basic sentence (1 beat) One noun plus one verb create a basic sentence. Short sentences like this call attention to themselves. Make sure there is a good reason for calling attention to them.

     Example: Dick ran.

2) Compound sentence (2 beats) One noun and two verbs with a connector such as and, but, or, nor, and then.

     Example:  Dick ran and laughed. Dick and Jane ran.

3) Compound sentence (3 beats) One noun and three verbs.

     Example: Dick ran and laughed then fell.

4) Simple sentence plus one modifying phrase (2 beats) One noun and verb with a modifying clause.

     Example: Dick ran, the breeze blowing through his hair.

5) Simple sentence plus two modifying phrases (3 beats) One noun and one verb with two modifying clauses.

     Example: Dick ran, the breeze blowing through his hair, laughter rising from his gut.

Complex sentence structure offers crescendos, trills, and cymbal crashes. Use them sparingly for effect.

6) Cumulative sentence (slow motion) One noun and verb with three to five modifying phrases. The cumulative sentence should be used to bring the verbal camera in tight, lingering like a fade out in music, a long plaintive last note, or a rising crescendo.

     Example: Dick ran, the breeze blowing through his hair, laughter rising from his gut, carefree, floating, free.

7) Sentence fragment (1 sharp beat or series of staccato beats)  One verb with no noun or one noun with no verb. Use fragments sparingly for emphasis, like a final cymbal crash. Limit them to perhaps two or three per chapter. Constant clanging gives the reader a headache, much like typing in ALL CAPS. The fewer you use, the more impact they have.

     Example: Dick ran. Laughing. Crying. Gone.

8) Balanced sentences (two even beats)  Two full sentences joined with a semi-colon. They are used only when the first sentence would not make sense without the other or the first sentence would not complete the thought without the second sentence. It contains a noun plus a verb, a semicolon, and second noun plus a verb. Either or both can have modifying clauses.

     Example: Dick won the battle; he lost the war and the only woman he’d ever love.

Take a page or two from your work in progress. Highlight the long sentences and sentence fragments or two word sentences in different colors. Look at how you have structured your paragraphs. Do they have variety? Are your sentences constructed properly? Do you have run-ons or too many fragments? Do all of your sentences have a noun and a verb?

The more you review sentence structure, the more it becomes second nature. Using sentence structure with intention promotes you from amateur to pro.

For an in-depth lesson on using sentence structure to craft language, check out Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers., available in print, Kindle, and Nook.

No comments:

Post a Comment