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Thread: How can I get better at writing varied, complex sentences?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW satyesu's Avatar
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    How can I get better at writing varied, complex sentences?

    I.e. not just noun-verb-adverb, etc.

  2. #2
    _ SomethingOrOther's Avatar
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    Take some of the works of your favorite authors who use complex sentence structures, and write exercise pieces in emulation of them. Then practice them in your own stories.

    You can skip the first step, but if you do you'll improve much more slowly.
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    Hagiographically Advantaged AW Moderator HapiSofi's Avatar
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    Read widely and constantly until the words come out your ears.
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  4. #4
    POP$ benefactor Chase's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by satyesu View Post
    How can I get better at writing varied, complex sentences?
    What SomethingOrOther and Hapisoft said.

    However, you're already past the highest hurdle. You've admitted using only simple sentences makes for ho-hum reading. Too often we're advised by well meaning people to do all the things tending to "dumb down" our writing into "sound bites."

    Pay careful attention to the authors you admire. The novels I like have approximately 50% simple, 30% compound, 15% complex, and 5% compound-complex sentences. It's not an exact formula but a loose estimation.

    And on SomethingOrOther again, practice-practice-practice when you edit-edit-edit.
    Last edited by Chase; 12-20-2012 at 07:06 AM. Reason: I screwed up the credits. Sorry.

  5. #5
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    What they said, plus there's a great book about sentence construction called How to Write a Sentence, by Stanley Fish.

  6. #6
    I don't know, just try throwing in some extra words and descriptive phrases until you have the kind of sentence construction that makes you feel like you've really—and I mean really—accomplished something very serious, something beautiful, no matter how long or crazy-ass convoluted it gets when you finally reach the end of the darned thing.
    Last edited by GeekTells; 12-20-2012 at 11:36 AM.
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  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW rwm4768's Avatar
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    I'm going to urge some caution here. Sentence variety is good. Reading authors who use longer sentences is good. But don't make all your sentences longer solely for the sake of making them longer. Sometimes a short sentence does the trick. In fact, I've even read more literary novels where the majority of the sentences are short.

    Of course, this is something that varies by author. Some authors love long sentences. Others don't. Personally, I try to tell my stories in as straightforward a manner as possible. However, I do keep in mind the need to vary sentence structure. If you don't vary sentence structure, it can get very repetitive.

    There are a lot of ways to do it, though. For example, you can add phrases to a sentence, even if they don't actually make it a complex or compound sentence. In the previous sentence, for example functioned as such a phrase.

    Most of all, though, you should read. Writing a varied sentence structure, one that matches up with what other authors do, comes more naturally the more you read, and the more widely you read.

  8. #8
    POP$ benefactor Chase's Avatar
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    Sometimes adding a word, phrase, or clause is necessary, but expanding your sentences merely for variety is not always a good idea. In most novels I edit, I more often suggest removing words and phrases that are redundant or over-explain rather than the other way around.

    Keep your short, clear sentences. Simplified, usually the trick to better sentence variety is to occasionally combine two (or more) simple sentences into a compound. Further on, string isolated kernal ideas into a complex sentence.

    It's still good advice to read books you like while finding your narrative voice. Finding the right cadence for you takes practice.
    Last edited by Chase; 12-21-2012 at 07:33 PM. Reason: Striving to spell rite . . . er . . . right

  9. #9
    Me want a cookie! Shika Senbei's Avatar
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    Just keep fiddling around until you have something you like. That's all there is to it.

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    Read until your eyes bleed.
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    I have no idea because all you seem to write are questions.
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  12. #12
    Ustom Ser Itle Dgullen's Avatar
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    Write more sentences. Give yourself permission to be grandiose, purple, and convoluted. You can edit in the next draft.
    Also, pay attention to the tension of the scene you are writing and you will find it can guide you. For example, you can allow yourself a few longer, descriptive or introspective sentences in the appropriate places in a scene. On the other hand, if you are writing something that has vivid action or intense drama, you want those short, terse sentences.
    But, essentially, write more.

  13. #13
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    That's a tough one for me. I don't really think about length when writing sentences, but about rhythm and flow. I write short sentences, long sentences, and in the middle sentences, but not by thinking about length. I just trust my ear, and if the writing has rhythm, and if it flows naturally with no choppy stops and starts, I label it good.

    Much of my editing as I go procedure is combining sentences, or sometimes turning one sentence into two or three, to get the right rhythm and flow, but I'm not really after any given sentence length. I just want it to sound right in my head as I read it.

  14. #14
    Horror Man seun's Avatar
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    I don't aim for writing a complex sentence. I aim for the right one.

  15. #15
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    Sometimes writing short sentences is a style, as is long complex sentences. There is nothing wrong with either. You just have to trust your own ear.

    If you try to force yourself to write long complex sentences, you risk purple writing.

    Just write and pay attention to the rhythm and flow of your sentences.
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  16. #16
    Let it go Persei's Avatar
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    I agree with Susan that sometimes writing majorly short sentences has to do with one's own style.

    However if you don't like how your works sounds, the best advice is to read writers who you appreciate and that write long, complex sentences. Watch, learn and try to mimic the sentence building to then adapt it to your own style.
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    Widely Regarded as a Bad Move DanielaTorre's Avatar
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    I forget what famous author took his favorite books and completely transcribed them, learning the craft as he went...

    I think writing gets better with time. Write one thing, then another, and another. But it needs to be natural.

  18. #18
    Happy Spring!! backslashbaby's Avatar
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    You might ask for suggestions for folks' favorite writers in or near your genre who write simply. Also ask for favorites who write with more complex sentences. Compare the two styles and see how you fall, or in the middle. Read them side-by-side, though.

    You could even try to write your own version of a few paragraphs or scene from each work.

    But I think it's key to compare both styles. If you don't naturally lean toward long sentences, you might prefer to see how simpler ones are done really well
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  19. #19
    Resident Alien Reziac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
    That's a tough one for me. I don't really think about length when writing sentences, but about rhythm and flow. I write short sentences, long sentences, and in the middle sentences, but not by thinking about length. I just trust my ear, and if the writing has rhythm, and if it flows naturally with no choppy stops and starts, I label it good.
    This, exactly. And it will vary according to the work. Some authors write in more than one genre, and the way they write in each is quite different -- according to the feel and flow that's needed for that work.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
    Much of my editing as I go procedure is combining sentences, or sometimes turning one sentence into two or three, to get the right rhythm and flow, but I'm not really after any given sentence length. I just want it to sound right in my head as I read it.
    Yep... and as I often say, when you're having trouble stuffing everything into that sentence, chances are the real problem is that it wants to be 2 or 3 sentences instead. When a sentence doesn't work, break it into its component phrases and try again. (And the reverse can be true as well.)
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  20. #20
    Writing Anarchist DeleyanLee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by satyesu View Post
    I.e. not just noun-verb-adverb, etc.
    Master grammar first and foremost. Know the ins-and-outs of how to use all manners of punctuation properly. Understand all the various types of clauses, what their functions are and when it really means when you use them--and what it really means when you misuse them.

    English is a language in which where something falls in a sentence makes a difference and a misplaced punctuation mark can either change the complete meaning of the sentence or make it into so much word-salad.

    The next thing to do is to learn how to focus ONE idea per sentence. It's so very easy to lose track of what the starting idea is by the end of a complex-complicated sentence. Too many people start with one premise and have completely replaced it once, sometimes twice, so the sentence ends with a completely unrelated conclusion. You need to train your mind to be certain you're not doing that.

    Once you've got those things down, then I'd look at some of the classic writers who are renown for their complex-complicated sentence structure. (Dickens, anyone?) Break these down and see how they're constructed and why they work. Understand how they say what they say.

    Then start writing. Having the knowledge of how such sentences are constructed properly should play out naturally into your style and not feel forced or imposed.

    Good luck.
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  21. #21
    Dorothy A. Winsor dawinsor's Avatar
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    Do you read your drafts aloud? That should at least clue you in better to what you already have. You'll hear monotony better than you'll see it. Knowing what you have is a first step to knowing what you want to change.

  22. #22
    resident curmudgeon
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    Quote Originally Posted by Reziac View Post
    This, exactly. And it will vary according to the work. Some authors write in more than one genre, and the way they write in each is quite different -- according to the feel and flow that's needed for that work.

    For me, it even varies with who the POV character is, whether it's an action scene, etc.

  23. #23
    all hail zombie babies! CrastersBabies's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
    That's a tough one for me. I don't really think about length when writing sentences, but about rhythm and flow. I write short sentences, long sentences, and in the middle sentences, but not by thinking about length. I just trust my ear, and if the writing has rhythm, and if it flows naturally with no choppy stops and starts, I label it good.

    Much of my editing as I go procedure is combining sentences, or sometimes turning one sentence into two or three, to get the right rhythm and flow, but I'm not really after any given sentence length. I just want it to sound right in my head as I read it.
    Yeah, this is my take on it as well. It's about rhythm and flow and how the beats lay out.
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  24. #24
    Resident Alien Reziac's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jamesaritchie View Post
    For me, it even varies with who the POV character is, whether it's an action scene, etc.
    Same here. One person thinks in complete sentences, another in snatches and phrases, a third as if keeping a journal -- and in close 3rd, the connective tissue should reflect the POV character. When it's well done, you don't even need the nametag to know whose POV you've just encountered (assuming more than one in a given work). Likewise, lazy days at the beach aren't panicked emergency scenes, and when the rhythm reflects the scene, it sets the correct mood without the author having to lay it out.
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  25. #25
    Grand adventurer of the couch Grunkins's Avatar
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    Think about rhythms. Try paying attention to jazz lines. Start with some Canonball Adderely solos, then move on to some Miles Davis solos. Compare the two.
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