Engaging Creative Writers Vary Their Sentence Structure
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
A few Wednesdays ago, I wrote a blog post about how you couldn’t please everyone. Which, for the record, remains just as true today as it was in the beginning of August.
(Even if that feels like a lifetime ago.)
Everyone has an opinion, you see. And sometimes those opinions don’t match up.
“For obvious reasons,” I noted, “I’m rather attached” to mine. “I’m sure you are too.” And we all think we’re right. Which means that, when someone disagrees with us, we’re prone to automatically thinking that contrary opinion is wrong.
We all know this is true of politics. (How much we know that’s true.) But the same applies to reading books, fiction or nonfiction. And, as I also mentioned in that earlier blog post:
To some degree, that’s okay. And to a much, much, much, much greater degree, that should be expected.
As such, you should never expect to please everyone. You can only work hard to engage everyone by: 1) Varying your sentence structure appropriately to create different reader reactions in the same way you choose your words.
There are two more engagements you can employ, but we’re going to save those for the next two weeks. For now, let’s focus on switching things up.
Novice fiction and nonfiction writers – and, actually, non-book writers too – don’t always realize how very important varying their sentence structure can be.
They’re so focused on telling their story or getting their message across… that the importance of properly presenting that story or message slips their minds. Problem is, nobody wants to read a page, much less a mess of pages, that they find unengaging.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Jem loved her house in the city. It was far away from the beautiful but boring views she’d known as a kid. She could see something happening no matter which way she looked. There were her crazy neighbors across the street who loved throwing parties. There was the hot guy in the apartment down the hall who always had on the latest fashion. She even loved the sporadic shouting matches from the alleyway below her bedroom window.
Jem didn’t know how she had survived before city life. She vowed to never go back.
So what’s wrong with that story snippet? It might not sound so bad as-is, but imagine that same-old, same-old sentence structure going on and on and on. All about the same length. All beginning with a noun, pronoun, or something very similar followed immediately by a verb.
That’s going to get monotonous very quickly for everyone but the most unsophisticated of readers.
And maybe even for them.
As already implied, the key to varying your sentence structure is twofold:
Switch up their lengths.
Switch up how they begin.
Together, that combination is going to lead to a much more enjoyable narrative since it comes across as more natural. Less robotic.
Very few people, after all, maintain such extreme consistency (or any consistency at all) in how they say what they say. It’s not normal to be so precise, therefore it’s bound to throw anyone off listening to it.
The same goes for reading, as you can see with this edited version of our paragraphs up above:
Jem loved her house in the city far away from the beautiful but boring views she’d known as a kid. No matter which way she looked, she could see something happening. Like her crazy neighbors across the street who loved throwing parties. Or the hot guy in the apartment down the hall who always had on the latest fashion. Jem even loved the sporadic shouting matches from the alleyway below her bedroom window.
Really, she didn’t know how she had survived before city life. And she vowed to never go back. Ever.
The details themselves didn’t change one bit. So the story stays the same. This way, there’s no need to fret about revising what you’ve written down. You’re not throwing away your creative integrity.
It’s only how you present your creative integrity that might need an edit if you’re writing without varying your sentence structure.