Saturday, May 25, 2013
The craft of rewriting-Technical Flaws-Telling-Sentence Structure
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: March 06, 2013
Long sentences aren’t a bad thing in fiction writing, but unclear sentences are. Some of the most beautiful and brilliant sentences ever written are more than five lines long. The trick is in the structure. To ensure the sentences haven’t moved past brilliance into elaborate passages of telling, check comma placement in compound sentences. If a sentence contains two separate ideas, either divide the sentence into two or place a semicolon where the period should go.
Loose: The smells of beer and stale cigarette smoke clung to the narrow space despite the fact that no one had smoked inside the Smuir for years.
Tighter: The smells of beer and stale cigarette smoke clung to the narrow space, although no one had smoked in the Smuir for years.
Tight: Though no one had smoked in the Smuir for years, stale cigarette and beer clung to the narrow space.
Let’s look at a longer passage:
Loose: Millicent’s cold eyes were staring down at them and nearly bulged from their sockets. Audrey looked at the rope around her neck, which ran over the rafters. Her hands were hanging at her sides. They weren’t limp like Audrey would have thought they would be. They curled into claws as though she was clutching at something.
Clutching at something? Something? Where do we begin? Note the passive verbs that pull this out of a tight POV? The sentences are crazy as well, and contain similar ideas which could be rewritten tighter to improve the flow. Let’s try that again, removing the passive verbs and keeping the POV tight.
Tight: Millicent’s cold eyes bulged. A rope circled her neck and ran up over the rafters. Her hands hung at her sides, fingers curled into claws…as though clutching at vanishing hope.
It’s important that writers remember when constructing sentences that the typical structure of a scene is stimulus/response. This repeats over and over. We can’t write one without the other. If the phone doesn’t ring, why should the character answer? If the door doesn’t make a sound as it opens, then the character would find no reason turn to see who entered.
The character cannot react to being shot by thinking first that there is someone shooting at him, then jumping to avoid the bullet, then thinking that his heart is racing.
Because of a circumstance or action, another action occurs—the reaction. Sentences need to relay information about the cause before the effect or result. For example:
Response/stimulus: She jumped as the phone rang.
Stimulus/response: When the phone rang, she jumped.
Stimulus/response: The phone rang, and she jumped.
Response/stimulus: The children opened their books and quieted as the teacher entered the room.
Stimulus/response: As the teacher entered the room, the children opened their books and quieted.
Stimulus/response: The teacher entered the room, and the children quieted, opening their books.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
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