Basic Building Blocks
“I’m the baby, gotta love me!”
The very fact of his existence, the little mind reasoned, was basis enough to be loved.
Sentences are much the same way. They make up the basic building blocks of everything you have ever written and will ever write. So make up your mind to love them, which being interpreted means – give them the respect they deserve.
There’s only one building block beneath the sentence and that, of course, would be a word. That’s another discussion entirely, so we won’t go there.
Sentences, it seems to me, know their own power and can get a little cocky at times. I’ve had them run off without me and try to do their own thing. And when they do, things can get nasty to say the least.
The best way to handle contrary and obstinate sentences (or coy, shy ones, or cute, clever ones, or noisy, verbose ones, whatever) is to work at understanding them. I read a comment recently that we “care more about that which we understand.” This is true in any area, but is especially true in our writing skills.
Have you been guilty of taking sentences for granted? Of so, perhaps that’s why they keep throwing those temper tantrums and behaving badly.
Job of the Sentence
Think of this: Your novel begins with the first word of the very first sentence, and it ends with the last word of the very last sentence. And in between are hundreds and hundreds of other sentences – for better or for worse! Each sentence has a particular job. Some are tension builders, some are connectors, some help to come to a conclusion, some will present interesting and lively dialogue, some will be descriptive and still others will be fact-filled.
There are short sentences, long sentences, complex sentences, and compound sentences. A sentence can consist of one word (which many English teachers deplore); and others can be twenty or thirty words or more (which most general readers deplore). The length of sentences, when used creatively in your fiction, can create intriguing rhythm patterns. You’ve read such novels, where the rhythm is so poignant it makes your heart almost ache. (Sometimes with jealousy if you are an aspiring author.)
And there are novels where the sentences are constructed so as to pull (push?) you so fast through the action, your head spins and you feel dizzy. You have to lay the book down to catch your breath.
When it comes to sentence construction I believe the Apostle Paul was the all-time master. There are many sentences in the Bible Epistles which I literally have to pick apart bit by bit to digest all that he has woven in to it. And I stand amazed as I see how this intellectual could make the sentences work for him in his writing. Of course, we’re talking here about non-fiction, but it’s still an awesome example to study. (I suggest you not try those patterns on today’s readers!)
When you want your story pace to speed up and clip along, use short, clipped, dramatic sentences. When you want the pace to slow, use longer, slower-moving, peaceful sentences.
Use your sentences to control action, alter moods, increase or decrease tension, convey humor, or be dead serious. What do you want, and need, that sentence to do for you? Where are you going at this point in your story? What needs to be accomplished?
Time for a Closer Look
It’s time to take a very close look at your own sentences. Are they all alike? (Perish the thought.) Do they all begin with clauses? (I’ve read works like that – whew! Tough read!) Are they all the same structure and relatively the same length? Where’s the rhythm in that? No wonder you’re struggling with your story.
Try reading aloud. Listen, listen, listen. While very few readers will actually be reading your novel out loud, still and yet (I hope you are very aware of this), even when your reader reads silently, there is still the “inner sound” of how the words fall on the “internal ear.” If when reading a long sentence (out loud), you are gasping for breath before the period, that’s a pretty good sign that it’s too long! Cut, edit, revise and rewrite!
Begin to experiment with these sentences that you now have chosen never to take for granted again! (Ah. How’s that for a cleverly constructed sentence?) As you experiment with writing great sentences, soon you will understand why you: gotta love ‘em!
Strive to understand sentences; strive to love sentences; strive to write the best sentences possible. Only then will your work explode into a living thing, and compel the reader to stay with you to the very last word of the very last sentence!