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Truul
01-30-2011, 07:40 PM
I struggle when it comes to using varied sentence structure. Inevitably, there's a certain set of stock forms I fall back on when it comes time to throw a sentence together. The result is that some of my work sounds bland and monotonous. I think one of the problems is that I've never learned the different types of structures--at least not formally.


Any thoughts or resources that may help a writer branch out and diversify his prose?

rainsmom
01-30-2011, 07:52 PM
Read. Pick a page from a couple of your favorite books, and note how many ways the structure varies and how it was accomplished. Then take a page from your work-in-progress and practice. It's a learned skill -- takes mindful practice!

Edited to add -- Welcome to the board!

VTwriter
01-30-2011, 07:55 PM
I have two obvious answers. First, pay attention to the books you like to read. Study how they vary sentence structure and the effect that sentence length and structure has on different elements of the story.

Second, practice that with your own writing. Concentrate on writing just a scene or a few paragraphs. Then do the same with your deconstruction of the books you've read. Do you tend to use long sentences with multiple clauses? Then rewrite some of them to be multiple sentences, each with one concentrated point. Do you tend to be overly descriptive or use unnecessary adverbs? Then practice writing simpler sentences with just the adjectives, if any, and proper active verbs.

Deconstruct your favorite books and then practice what you learn in your own writing. Like any other endeavor in life, even if you have lots of talent, there is still a ton of education and practice involved.

RJK
01-30-2011, 08:13 PM
Seek out sentences that start with "It" or "There." Drop the word and restructure the sentence. Look for sentences that begin with a pronoun and restructure to remove it. Check for groups of sentences of the same approximate length and change some of them, so you have some short and some long.

Libbie
01-30-2011, 08:22 PM
I struggle when it comes to using varied sentence structure. Inevitably, there's a certain set of stock forms I fall back on when it comes time to throw a sentence together. The result is that some of my work sounds bland and monotonous. I think one of the problems is that I've never learned the different types of structures--at least not formally.


Any thoughts or resources that may help a writer branch out and diversify his prose?

Welcome to AW! :)

An awful lot of good writers have never had any formal education, nor have they studied the various layers of writing (sentence structure, paragraphs, etc.) in great detail. Many self-educated writers do it by simple observation. If you're getting stuck in a rut and your prose feels bland to you, perhaps it's time to examine what you're reading.

How diverse is your reading? Are you reading across genres? Are you reading the works of writers who are highly respected, both in your favorite genres and in others? Usually writers who are highly respected are aces at the craft -- they have enough variety in their sentences that their work seldom seems monotonous or dry.

I haven't read any particular books on sentence structure that jump out in my memory, but I do read a lot of other writers' work and really observe what I'm reading (in addition to enjoying it as art), and I think that helps me understand the craft better than structured learning would.

Some folks do learn better with structure, though. If you're the kind who prefers formal instruction, there are all kinds of workshops you could look into.

LaceWing
01-30-2011, 08:23 PM
I think it helps to consider the paragraph (also the scene) as a unit in which sentences play a role.

Things to do:

1. Take a paragraph apart by putting line breaks between every sentence. Look for repetition of form. Decide if repetition is what the paragraph needs; if not, make some changes.

2. Underline or bold all sentences of a certain type. Stand back and look at the pattern they make. Does the work want this kind of pattern or some other?

smoothseas
01-30-2011, 08:28 PM
I struggle when it comes to using varied sentence structure. Inevitably, there's a certain set of stock forms I fall back on when it comes time to throw a sentence together. The result is that some of my work sounds bland and monotonous. I think one of the problems is that I've never learned the different types of structures--at least not formally.


Any thoughts or resources that may help a writer branch out and diversify his prose?



Try typing out the first few pages of your favorite book. Or, you can try a web search, to see if there's a few sample pages you could copy and paste. Print them out.

Grab a package of different colored highlighters. Use one color for simple declarative sentences. A second color for compound sentences with dependent clauses. A third color for compound sentences constructed with independent clauses. A fourth for sentences that start with a participle phrases.

Hopefully a pattern will begin to emerge.

Good writing flows; the sentences have rhythm and cadence; this you learn from practice.

Good luck!

Tiergan
01-30-2011, 08:40 PM
Look for sentences that begin with a pronoun and restructure to remove it.

Really? I had never heard this, but that means little, as I know even less than little. And I do learn something new everyday.

Splendad
01-30-2011, 09:56 PM
I think we should be careful about emulation. Truth be told, I don't read many novels. And I LOVE some novels, but I feel like if I do, my style is moving away from my creative mind and into the mainstream (defined here as the average style of the stuff we read as individuals which had to have some commercial appeal). Don't lose yourself and your unique style and approach by swimming in the work of others to try to osmo-grab their talent and style. My 2.

Mr Flibble
01-30-2011, 11:00 PM
Really? I had never heard this, but that means little, as I know even less than little. And I do learn something new everyday.
Well you don;t need to remove it always, but I've seen a lot of (read: my first drafts consist of) a lot of 'He did this' 'He did that' Very repetitive after a while

So, see how you can change it up. This has the added bonus of helping character voice etc.

She grinned and X'd

Hmm. Not exactly the world's best sentence.In fact, fairly boring.

With a wildcat grin that made his knees water she..

The grin seemed pasted to her face like a bad clown mask

If she'd used pink lipstick rather than red, her grinning mouth would look less like a throat slit in a bad slasher movie


It's akin to the overuse of 'I' in first person. (I did this, then that. I ran a bath. I added bubbles. As opposed to 'the water steamed and frothed as it stirred the bubbles)

Get outside of the blocking/stage direction, into the character, and allow the voice and the outside (the POV) experience to take over. Sometimes you have to start with a pronoun, but if you think about it, it's quite an easy change to make.

muravyets
01-30-2011, 11:16 PM
I've often been advised to write the way I talk. I do that in rough drafts. Later, I go in and just fix my own grammar -- or fudge it, whatever it takes to make it readable for someone who isn't me. I frequently find that I've used the same sentence or paragraph structures over and over. I fix that in rewrite to make the story flow more freely.

I often scold myself for long, complex sentences that may not technically be run-ons but do carry on and twist about a lot. Then I happened to take some speed typing practice exercises that had me copying pages from Joseph Conrad (Important Author (tm) of whom I should be in awe). Now I feel better about myself. Holy cats, I've never seen anyone cram so many subordinate clauses between an initial cap and a period. Geez, Joe, pause for breath once in a while. :D

My point is, I don't think you should worry about it too much. Once you've written the story, take a brain break from it, then read it with fresh eyes - recruit other eyes, too. Find the parts that don't flow the way you'd like, and fiddle with them until they do. Plain vanilla sentences are fine, if they serve the scene and the reader. My opinion.

By the way, welcome. I'm a newbie here, too. :)

Jamesaritchie
01-31-2011, 02:54 AM
Read as much as possible, and do as the writers you love do. Nothing else works. Though I will say varying sentence structure is less imortant than varying sentence length.

ishtar'sgate
01-31-2011, 03:10 AM
Though I will say varying sentence structure is less imortant than varying sentence length.

Agree. It's possible your work sounds bland and monotonous to your ear because your sentences are all the same length. Like music, writing should have a rhythm, a kind of fluctuating movement. Sentence length can mirror what's going on in the story. A peaceful scene can have longer more languid sentences while a fight scene may have short, terse sentences just like the quick jabs exchanged by the combatants. Try reading your work out loud and listening for the rhythm. Does it have one? Change up a paragrah to combine long and short sentences and listen to the difference. Good luck!

Rowan
01-31-2011, 04:42 AM
Welcome to AW!

Read. A lot. Everything and anything. And then write. A lot. Practice, practice, practice. Write out a sentence and then rework it half a dozen times.

You'll get it! :)

ETA: And good point by Jamesaritchie/Ishtar'sgate--pay attention to sentence length and the tone you're trying to convey. You don't want a continuous string of complex/compound sentences any more than you want a string of short, concise (simple) sentences. Vary the length--short/concise for action or long, complex sentences for descriptive passages/etc. Pick up your favorite books and see how the author accomplishes this.

Truul
02-01-2011, 12:49 AM
Thanks for the warm welcomes :)

Read. Pick a page from a couple of your favorite books, and note how many ways the structure varies and how it was accomplished. Then take a page from your work-in-progress and practice. It's a learned skill -- takes mindful practice!

*nods* Duly noted! I could certainly be more mindful of what I read and write.

I have two obvious answers. First, pay attention to the books you like to read. Study how they vary sentence structure and the effect that sentence length and structure has on different elements of the story.

Second, practice that with your own writing. Concentrate on writing just a scene or a few paragraphs. Then do the same with your deconstruction of the books you've read. Do you tend to use long sentences with multiple clauses? Then rewrite some of them to be multiple sentences, each with one concentrated point. Do you tend to be overly descriptive or use unnecessary adverbs? Then practice writing simpler sentences with just the adjectives, if any, and proper active verbs.

Deconstruct your favorite books and then practice what you learn in your own writing. Like any other endeavor in life, even if you have lots of talent, there is still a ton of education and practice involved.

Good suggestions for practice; thank you.

Seek out sentences that start with "It" or "There." Drop the word and restructure the sentence. Look for sentences that begin with a pronoun and restructure to remove it. Check for groups of sentences of the same approximate length and change some of them, so you have some short and some long.

Lot of pattern recognition! Very helpful, thanks.

Try typing out the first few pages of your favorite book. Or, you can try a web search, to see if there's a few sample pages you could copy and paste. Print them out.

Grab a package of different colored highlighters. Use one color for simple declarative sentences. A second color for compound sentences with dependent clauses. A third color for compound sentences constructed with independent clauses. A fourth for sentences that start with a participle phrases.

I'm going to give this exercise a try; I like the idea of visualizing and color-coding different types of sentences.

Agree. It's possible your work sounds bland and monotonous to your ear because your sentences are all the same length. Like music, writing should have a rhythm, a kind of fluctuating movement. Sentence length can mirror what's going on in the story. A peaceful scene can have longer more languid sentences while a fight scene may have short, terse sentences just like the quick jabs exchanged by the combatants. Try reading your work out loud and listening for the rhythm. Does it have one? Change up a paragrah to combine long and short sentences and listen to the difference. Good luck!

Not something I've considered in the past, thanks! Going to be thinking a lot more about how my writing sounds on the ear.

Very much appreciated, everyone!

Stijn Hommes
02-01-2011, 02:02 AM
I struggle when it comes to using varied sentence structure. Inevitably, there's a certain set of stock forms I fall back on when it comes time to throw a sentence together. The result is that some of my work sounds bland and monotonous. I think one of the problems is that I've never learned the different types of structures--at least not formally.


Any thoughts or resources that may help a writer branch out and diversify his prose?
Are you really sure you've got a problem? It seems to me that you have plenty of structural variation in your sentences. At least in the ones you posted here. You don't need to know the names of all those things to write them well. :)

If you get stuck with a text that sounds bland, try to pick one of the sentences in there that isn't running like you want it to, and try to say what you want to get across in a different way. And remember: sentence structure isn't everything. Sometimes the words you pick can make a big difference.