Saturday, September 5, 2015

How Sentence & Paragraph Structure Can Boost Your Book

After the big stuff in your book is taken care of (a good main character, a good villain, a good plot, a realistic setting), you eventually must get to the fine tuning. Taking the work of art that is your novel and polishing it in every minute detail. I covered some of these details in my 10 Rookie Mistakes and How to Mend Them post, but I'm going to take this a step further. We're taking a Q-tip to your manuscript now.

These eight elements may seem small, but they can shape your prose in many ways and provide an even more immersive experience for your reader.

1.) Sentence Structure - How you compose your sentences matter. Make sure they don't all start the same way. Using too many sentences that start with as, or an -Ing word, or pronouns or a character's name or anything else too many times, can get tedious and break up the flow of your prose. Also too many compound sentences in a row, or too many simple sentences in a row, or any other type can also get repetitive. See what I mean? ;)

2.) Sentence Length - The length of your sentences are can create tone. Longer sentences make your readers read slower and these are better for slower scenes. Short sentences are best for action sequences or punchy lines. These make your reader read faster and create urgency. But like before with structure, take caution with how many you use in a row. Sometimes a few together can make a point, but a whole paragraph of just short sentences or just long sentences. I wouldn't recommend.

3.) Paragraph Length - The same principle applies with paragraphs as with sentences. Their length will create tone. I'd be the most cautious about having extremely long paragraphs. Those can put off readers fast. Use longer paragraphs for calmer scenes, but don't make them too long. Use shorter paragraphs for action scenes. This doesn't mean the specific paragraphs can't be used for one or the other, but keep this tone maker in mind.

4.) Start and End Your Paragraphs Differently - Seeing three paragraphs in a row start with the same character's name can look sloppy, awkward, and it reads funny. Try to vary what word you use to start each paragraph and what type of word. It looks better on the page. The, the, the, or Carl, Carl, Carl, or he, he, he, can get old.

Really old.
5.) Star and End Your Sentences Differently - When you start your sentences the same way, it can feel very jarring for the reason. When you do this, it reads funny and it breaks up the flow. When you catch yourself doing this, please, fix it. It's may be more work, but your book will benefit from it. On the other hand, may sure your sentences don't end the same way. This can also get tedious when you do things this way. Do you see what I mean?

6.) Stronger Words - Use strong words. Often you can condense many words into one when using one great word. It makes your sentences better and it's fun to use big words. Love your thesaurus.

7.) Repeated Words - Some words are invisible like conjunctions or simple verbs, but words like mellifluous, illuminated, and thalassic stick out like sore thumbs when used more than once. Like stated above, big, strong words are great when used appropriately, but if you deal the same card twice too close together it can backfire.

8.) Action Beats & Speaker Tags - While writing dialogue make sure to vary your action beats and speaker tags. Put them at the beginning of dialogue, in the middle, or the end, and use different placements. Sometimes you don't need a tag or action beat at all. Sometimes a speaker tag can be perfectly used for a pause. Remember: don't repeat yourself.

You may be thinking:

Take heart after a while these things become more instinctive and you don't think about them as much while you write. Once you have an awareness of things such of this, it eventually will set into your subconscious. Happy writing and may the muse be every in your favor!

Have you heard of these tricks before? Have you tried these with your writing? Do you have any additional tips?

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