From Sarah, With Joy

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

New post every Monday

Monday, May 5, 2014

6 Tricks to Make Your Sentences Shine (Part 1)

I told you I was going to give you some of the best advice I learned at the recent Las Vegas Writer's Conference. Here we go.

I went to two or three sessions dedicated specifically to helping us writers make our sentences more prettier. A lot of what they said is simple and practical and incredibly helpful.

A caveat first. This is the caveat that one of the workshop presenters gave, and I liked it a lot. He said that in giving this advice, there are three possible responses. You can read this advice and think, that's brilliant I'm totally going to use that! You can read it and think, this is all a load of crap, not helpful at all. Or you can read it and think, I like this, but I think I want to tweak it and use it this way that will work better for me. All of those answers are correct. Obviously I think this advice is helpful and good, or I wouldn't be sharing it, but if it messes you up or if you want to just use some of it or whatever, that is your prerogative. Take what you can use. This goes for basically any writing advice you read out there.

Okay. Enough of that. Here are the simple tricks I learned at the Writers Conference that can help make your sentences shine.

1. Build toward power. In your sentences, lead up to the big knock-out punch. Figure out which word is the power word in your sentence and put it at the end. For example:

Death has always been my biggest fear.
becomes
My biggest fear has always been death.

In this sentence, Death is the power word, and so you rearrange to put that power punch at the end. This keeps the flow, and your reader, moving forward.

2. Preposition Trick. Okay. Big grain of salt on this one. When the workshop teacher first gave us this rule, my immediate thought was dismissive. I thought, no way, that's too contrived. But after giving it more thought, I think this can actually, if used sparingly, be very helpful.

The trick is this: if you're worried your sentences are starting to sound like See Spot Run, then you can beautify and complexify them by starting your sentence with a preposition. Like I said, I think this can be very easily overdone, but I feel like I have the overly-simple problem, and so I've been seeing if I can find places where this can actually help. For example:

They ate pizza when they got home from soccer practice
becomes

By the time they got home from soccer practice a large pizza sat steaming on the table.

Again, be VERY careful with this rule, and in fact you may have the opposite problem of starting too many of your sentences with prepositions, in which case you can do the inverse to help. But if you want to add a little maturity to your writing, a sprinkle here and there of preposition can add a little summ'n summ'n.

3. Don't make laundry lists. This one is pretty simple. When we're describing something it's often tempting to just give a laundry list of adjectives. But that strategy is lazy and uninteresting. So:

Dan had large hands, hazzle-flecked eyes, and a cowlick in the middle of his forehead.

becomes

In one large hand Dan swung his baseball bat back and forth while he tried to slick down the wanton cowlick with the other.

Even if your laundry list is interesting, taking it out of laundry list format can help add action (i.e. interest) to your sentences.

Since this is already going on for so long, I'm breaking this into two parts. Come back on Wednesday for part 2!

Sarah Allen

14 comments:

  1. I like the first and third ones. Those are helpful!

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    1. Thanks! The next three tips will be up on Wednesday.

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  2. These are great tips and you make a good point with the second - variety is key!
    Looking forward to the next instalment. :-)

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    1. Thank you so much! It was amazing to be at a conference with so many smart people and hearing their advice.

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  3. Thank you so much. I am downloading your post for my critique group!

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    1. Oh my gosh that is awesome!! I am very flattered :D Hope it helps!!

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  4. This is excellent advice for every reader. I realize I am guilty of all three things.

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    1. Thank you! I found this advice particularly helpful as well, which is why I picked it to share here :)

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  5. Good tips. I think everyone has to judge the usefulness of these sorts of things for themselves but excellent food for thought.

    mood
    Moody Writing

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    1. Exactly. I tried to pick the advice that I found personally useful, but you're exactly right, everyone should use what helps them. It's also good to know the rules before you figure out the right ways to break them.

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  6. These are awesome tips, especially the first one. I've never really thought of it that way. It's amazing to think that just by rearranging your sentences differently your writing can have a whole different effect. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Oh good! Yeah, the advice from the workshop leaders put things in a new and helpful way, so I just had to share.

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  7. Thanks Sarah for passing on these tips. I love it when people share what they have learned at conferences, courses and so on - I trawl blogs for these great bits of advice. I can't currently commit the time or money to such things so I really appreciate it when other writers share.

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    1. I'm in the same boat. Conference are expensive, so I like it when people share what they got from them.

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