Another way to say that is “writing is the choice and arrangement of symbols”.
Today, though, I want to focus on sentences.
If you’re thinking, “whole books have been written about sentences”, you are right. I can’t cover all the syntactic ground of sentences in a single blog post.
No way, Hosea.
So, instead, I thought we could take one, simple sentence and dress it up in 13 different ways.
Disclaimer: every sentence is unique, set inside a particular context, fashioned with narrow, fixed intent. What is a fix to one sentence, is a flaw to another. Always consider the bigger picture.
Let’s use this sentence: “I am the author of several thriller novels.”
13 Ways To Fix A Sentence
1. Make it Shorter
Short sentences are punchy. They bark. They bite.
The benefit of short sentences is clarity. Directness. Short sentences generally capture only one thought. A warning, however: too many short sentences become monotonous.
How do we widdle down our chosen sentence to something more palletable?
How about, “I write thriller novels.”
2. Change the Verb
Instead of “write”, maybe we say pen, scribble, author, beat out, scrawl, draft, inscribe, construct or compose.
How does each verb alter the sentence? Which one do you like best, and why?
3. Make it Longer
Short sentences are punchy. Long sentences, with thier epic flowing clauses, weave down the page in ever expanding detail, up and down the ladder of abstraction until, finally, they come to an end.
“I am the author of several thriller novels, namely the Past Lives novel series and the standalone, Dark Halo.”
4. Add concrete detail
I write legal thrillers.
I write cowboy clown thriller novels. (I wish!)
I ghost write thriller novels for James Patterson. (God, are you listening?!)
I, Christopher Kokoski, write thriller novels.
Figurative language such as similes and metaphors raise sentences to the level of poetry, myth and fantasy.
I write thriller novels that bend reality like Neo from the Matrix.
I write thriller novels as frightening as your Aunt Zelda’s ear mole.
I write thriller novels like my pen is on fire.
6. Contrast It
Thrusting together disparate parts instantly makes anything more interesting. Cold fire. Wet sand. Beautiful atrocity.
There is a reason Fish Out Of Water and Odd Couple stories are so popular.
Contrast invites the reader to rethink the commonplace, to participate in the reinvention of a new kind of person, place or thing.
I write comedy thrillers.
I write thrillers about a quadriplegic cop.
A sentence is a structured symbol of meaning. Change the structure, change the meaning.
“I write thriller novels” becomes “Thriller novels – the kind I write– rush along…”
8. Add Suspense
I write a new kind of thriller novel.
I write a thriller series about a reincarnated serial killer.
Suspense can rise from an unanswered question or unusual word choice. Anything that generates curiosity counts as “suspense” as it’s being used here.
9. Add A Gun
Like suspense, this sentence fix relies on word choice. A “gun” is symbolic. No need to work a literal firearm into every sentence.
Any threat or anticipated threat (conflict, tension) can be just as effective, coloring the words around it with ominous shades of tone and texture.
Want a boring breakfast table scene to ripple with tension? Put a gun on the table next to the butter. Or a butcher knife. Or an axe.
I am the author of a thriller novel about an axe-wielding day care janitor.
Don’t just slap; random punctuation, anywhere —. There are grammar rules, guidelines and punctuation pointers to follow.
Yes, once you know the basics of grammar, you can play and experiment, go wild. Until then, study up. Learn first, then unlearn.
11. Pete and Repeat
Repetition emphasizes part of the sentence (usually the most important part), raising a giant microscope on the chosen element, a kind of hyper focus. Repetition can also add rich detail.
I write thriller novels, novels of blood and bullets, novels of cops and car chases.
12. Vivid language
Sentences, good ones anyway, borrow from Stephen King’s playbook. They use vivid language and fresh images.
Vivid language, I’ll admit, is subjective. Vividness is in the eye of the beholder. Usually, it blends verbs and nouns, doubling up on some, throwing in the occasional adjective and adverb for good measure.
I write thriller novels, stripping the everyday for the extraordinary, replacing mundane with monsters.
13. Be Lyrical
I could have also said, “Be poetic”.
There are many options for lyricizing your sentences. Alliteration, consonance, assonance – these are but a few.
Dean Koontz said that he made forward leaps in his craft during the writing of his novel, Innocence. The nature of these leaps? The lyrical quality of his prose.
Alliteration = placing two words that begin with the same letter next to each other in a sentence. “I write salicious sentences.”
Consonance = Two words with similar consonant sounds in close succession
Assonance = Two words with similar vowel sounds in close succession
These are but a few ways to clothe your prose in lyricism. Study, learn, explore, experiment.
- Experiment with different sentence lengths, structures, verbs, levels of abstraction and details.
- A sentence can be written (and rewritten) in many different ways.
- Write sentences for substance, style and “sound”.
Remember, too, that a sentence is only as good as the company it keeps.