The Baker’s Dozen: Sentence Variation in Writing

Writing is a big job, but hopefully these hints will help make it a little easier. (Image source: Bligoo.com)

Writing is a big job, but hopefully these hints will help make it a little easier. (Image source: Bligoo.com)

As a beginning writer I constantly made the mistake of using simple sentences. A simple sentence being, subject, verb, object. The (s)chicken (v)crossed the (o)road. Of course with my bad habit of using the passive voice when I write, that sentence would look like this: The road was crossed by the chicken (The object has the action being performed to it, not the subject performing the action)

Let’s have a look at a few simple sentences strung together as they begin a story.

“I am walking on the road. I am going to the grocery store. The cars are driving fast on the road. I look right and left before I cross the road. The cars stop at the red traffic light. I walk across the road. The store is closed. I walk home.”

Exciting writing! Well if you’re not asleep yet, imagine how boring this would be if I continued to write in the present tense, with simple sentences? Pretty dull writing.

Let’s play around with the tense, the narrator, the verbs, the repetitive words, redundant words, and the type of sentences we use. If we examine our writing and vary sentence structure, it makes for tighter, clearer and more cohesive writing.

I have a list of 13 sentence types that I use or refer to when I revise and edit my writing. Here is my Baker’s Dozen.

  1.  Start with the complete subject. (The person, place or thing the sentence is about)
  2. Start with a prepositional phrase. (Starts with a preposition such as during, after, with etc; and ends with a noun)
  3. Start with an adverb. (describes a verb)
  4. Start with an infinitive. (To + verb form “To go”)
  5. Start with a gerund. (A word that begins with a verb and ends in “ing.” “Walking by the shop window, I see my reflection, shabby and unkempt.”)
  6. Use an appositive. (a noun or pronoun that describes another noun or pronoun “Mister Jingles the mouse was also a character in The Green Mile)
  7. Start with a present participle. (to be verb + verb ending in “ing”)
  8. Use a past participle. (“ed” form of the verb)
  9. Use an adverbial clause. (Subordinate clause that acts as an adverb, and modifies or describes the verb)
  10. Ask a question.
  11. Use an explanation.
  12. Use dialogue.
  13. Use a nominative absolute.
The Art of Styling Sentences Book Cover (Image Source: Amazon.com)

The Art of Styling Sentences Book Cover
(Image Source: Amazon.com)

I would also suggest that if you want to improve your writing skills that you purchase two important books.

The first is one that I mentioned in a previous post, The Art of Styling Sentences. I consider it invaluable.

The second is The Chicago Manual of Style, most editors and publishers in the US use this form of writing when proofreading/ editing manuscripts. It is not at all the same as the Associated Press Style Book, which is designed to get the maximum words into the least amount of space, so abbreviations are common.

Chicago Manual of Style (Image source: Amazon.com)

Chicago Manual of Style (Image source: Amazon.com)

The Chicago Manual of Style is for writers of literature, not newspaper articles. It is important to distinguish the difference between the two styles. If editors see spelling mistakes, grammatical errors or over-used simple sentence patterns, they won’t give your work a second glance.

I would also highly recommend having at least ten people read your work. Eyes can glaze over very easily and mistakes can slip through the cracks. When I self-published my first book, I was sorry I didn’t have someone else read it first.

Just to let you know, I have read this post five times now, and I am still editing it as I go. That’s important to know, you never get it right the first time, or the second, or the third,………..but at some point you do have to walk away.

Hope this helps with your writing.

Here’s that paragraph again, with all simple sentences, and below it the altered version using some of the suggestions above:

“I am walking on the road. I am going to the grocery store. The cars are driving fast on the road. I look right and left before I cross the road. The cars stop at the red traffic light. I walk across the road. The store is closed. I walk home.”

“Walking on a road where cars drive by fast, I make my way to the grocery store. At the traffic light, I look right and left, waiting for the cars to stop. As I cross, I see the store is closed. I walk back home.”

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2 thoughts on “The Baker’s Dozen: Sentence Variation in Writing

  1. I couldn’t agree more about having other people read your work. But it’s difficult to find volunteers, especially those who are both willing to read and who have the necessary knowledge. One of the challenges of self-publishing!

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