Happy Tuesday, everyone. Does anyone look forward to Tuesdays? At least it’s not Monday, right? Tuesdays seem to be a little underrated. We like Wednesday because it’s halfway through the week, Friday because it marks the end of the work week, and Saturday because it is the weekend (unless you work Saturdays like I do). There just isn’t anything special about Tuesday except for Blu-ray and DVD releases. Here’s something new to look forward to. Beginning today, I’m going to start giving out writing and editing tips every Tuesday.
For my first Tuesday tip, I want to talk about sentence variety.
With over a million words in the English language (approx. 1,025,109.8 according to the Global Language Monitor), how is it possible that sentences can become redundant?
It’s always a good idea to start at the beginning. So, let’s look at the first word of the sentence.
Here’s a quick exercise you can do with your writing. Pick a chapter, any chapter. Circle or highlight the first word of every sentence. Do you see a pattern forming? Do you notice a lot of repeating words such as the, it, I, in, he, she, or this.
While a strong sentence often starts with an article or a subject, a good writer uses a variety of sentence openers. The solution is to rephrase or rewrite the sentence so that the article, name, or pronoun doesn’t come first. No one likes rewrites, but small changes can have a big impact. Below are some suggestions for rephrasing.
Example: Bob walked down the street and waved at the dancing children.
*This sentence starts with a subject. If you’re tired of reading Bob’s name, take the action Bob performs, add -ing to the word, and place your new word at the beginning of the sentence.
Revision: Walking down the street, Bob waved at the dancing children.
IMPORTANT: These types of sentences are tricky because you can accidently create dangling participles. Remember this trick: The subject following the comma is the person or thing doing the action.
Example: Walking down the street, the children were dancing.
*This is wrong because the children are not the ones walking down the street. Bob disappeared entirely from this scenario. This sentence implies the children were dancing while they walked down the street.
Another way to add variety is to start your sentences with transitional words or phrases such as a prepositional phrase.
after all, afterward, also, although, and, but, consequently, despite, earlier, even though, for example, for instance, however, in conclusion, in contrast, in fact, in the meantime, indeed, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, regardless, shortly, still, that is, then, therefore, though, thus, and yet
Example: The cat sat on my book.
*There’s that pesky the at the beginning.
Revision: When I sat down to read, I noticed my cat was on my book.
Revision: Even though my cat has a bed, she sat on my book.
Now that articles and names aren’t always at the head of the line, let’s look at your sentences to eliminate repetitive sentence length.
Read your sentences out loud. Do you sound halting and choppy like you’re talking in Morse code? Or, do you need an inhaler at the end of your long-winded sentences to catch your breath? Alternating long and short sentences throughout your manuscript is a great way to add rhythm and sentence variety.
Example: I went to Walmart. My family came with me. I was looking for bananas. Walmart did not have bananas.
*Too many short sentences.
Revision: I went to Walmart with my family to buy bananas. Alas, there were none.
*By following the long sentence with a short one, the sentence flows and sounds more natural.
If you have too many short sentences, combine them to make longer ones. Don’t forget your conjunctions (and, but, for, or, so) and subordinate connectors (after, although, as, as if, because). I also recommend combining sentences when several sentences are about the same topic.
Example: McDonald’s has a high turnover rate. McDonald’s doesn’t pay employees enough money.
Revision: McDonald’s has a high turnover rate because employees aren’t paid enough money.
You can also use relative pronouns (which, who, whoever, whom, that, whose) to combine short, choppy sentences, or sentences that give away redundant information.
Example: My car caught on fire. I got it for my birthday.
Revision: My car, which I got for my birthday, caught on fire.
There you have it–multiple ways to add some variety to your sentence wardrobe. Please check out my blog next Tuesday for another tip.