From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

6 Tricks to Make Your Sentences Shine (Part 2)

On Monday we talked about ways to polish up and beautify your sentences and we're going to continue that discussion today. I got these tips and ideas from the recent Las Vegas Writers Conference, and I'll give my caveat again: I'm sharing this advice because I personally found it helpful, but take what works for you and don't mess yourself up.

These tips focus mostly on our use of verbs. In many ways verbs are the most important part of our sentences, and these tips can hopefully help us jazz up our writing and make it more interesting.

4. Use stronger verbs. This is an oldie but a goodie. I'm sure we've all heard this before, but its important enough that I thought it bared repeating. It's simple and subtle but very effective. So:

Henry hit the table with his fist and walked out of the room.
becomes
Henry bashed the table with his fist and trudged out of the room.

With stronger verbs, we can more easily see the way Henry exited the room. And that's our goal, to put images in our readers minds.

5. Use linking verbs with caution. Here is a list of linking verbs: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. Also add to that had and has. Obviously we're going to need to make fairly frequent use of these verbs; I'm not saying we have to avoid them all together. They are simply an integral part of the English language. However, when we can find a way to avoid them, it's one of the most effective ways to spice up our sentences. So:

The old, gray house was known to be abandoned, and a habitat for bats and raccoons and maybe something more sinister.
becomes

We often heard the squeaks of bats and raccoons coming from the abandoned house on the corner, and occasionally noticed an unidentifiable moaning more sinister than creaky floor boards.

This is also a quick way to bring our sentences from passive to active voice.

6. Avoid "Thinking" verbs. These are some of the verbs the workshop leader called "thinking" verbs: think, know, believe, want, desire, understand, realize, remembers, imagines, feel. Again, this is not to say we can never use these verbs. They are simple and common, which is why they are so often used, and also why we should be judicious ourselves in using them. Changing things up when we can will elevate our writing to something more beautiful. So:

I could feel the adrenaline dissipate, leaving exhaustion in its wake.
becomes

The adrenaline dissipated, leaving me too exhausted to do anything but collapse next to the fridge.

Again, this trick adds action and focus to the sentence, making it more attention-grabbing for the reader. 

Like I said, these tricks are not the be all and end all and should be used judiciously. Like pepper on a stake. Cook the way the works for you, but know that these spices are available to add flavor. 

The key here is to dig deep and see why these suggestions can be helpful in the first place. I believe it is because using these strategies tends to bring in more character and more action. They help you bring a person into your sentence and make them do something. And that is a very good thing. I'm working on these things as much as anybody, which is why the conference was so helpful for me. So keep character and action in mind, even when not using these particular little tricks, and your writing really will shine.

Any other tricks I should add to this list? Do you have tips for making your sentences work better?

Sarah Allen

13 comments:

  1. I'm guilty of "thinking" verbs, especially remembering and imagining, yuck yuck yuck. Less is better as you point out. It's like cliches (though we should never use them), and I have to constantly watch myself.

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    1. I added this advice because I have the same problem :) My watch word is "feel" or "felt". And yes, cliches are to be avoided.

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  2. great tips, can be summed up yoga style - Do or do not, there is no "think!" action!
    and thanks for commenting on my cover reveal!

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    Replies
    1. Yoga style, I like that :) And yes, the key is action! That's actually something very specific the agents at the conference talked about during an anonymous 1st page reading panel (which I'll be talking about in a later blog post, so stay tuned ;)

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  3. I need to work on those thinking verbs. I used to use the word felt and often.

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    1. Exactly, me too. Which is why I wanted to share the advice that I found personally helpful :)

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  4. All about action. These are great tips, thanks. Glad the conference was useful!

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    1. Super useful! And thanks for your comments!! If we can get action in our sentences we will move our reader forward.

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  5. Excellent, excellent suggestions!

    Hugs and chocolate!

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  6. Helpful tips. I also use the "thinking" verbs too much. And have a passive voice problem. I'm trying to read my way out of it.

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    1. Reading is a great way to climb out of that! I think that's why its super important to read a bunch of things, including poetry, and all types of genres. I have the same problems, and I use reading to get out of that too.

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  7. Very good suggestions. Thanks for sharing your conference goodies with us.

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