Sentenced

by Kate

Let’s talk about sentences, all the ways they can go wrong, and the ways that they can be fixed up to make your writing stronger, tighter, and more exciting.

Sentence structure can make or break a manuscript, and to tell a strong story, you need a good mix of long and short, simple and complex, descriptive and active. They also have to be correct…

Here are the most common errors, with examples, and the way they can be fixed:

  • Sentence Fragments – every sentence needs a subject and a verb to be complete. Most sentences need more than that to be interesting. You also want to make sure there’s an independent clause – a whole and complete thought or idea expressed.
    • Bad: Blue eyes, tanned skin, chestnut hair blowing in the wind.
      • No subject, no verb (blowing, in this case, is acting like an adjective)
      • Dependent clause – this sentence requires the sentence in front of it or behind it to give context and make sense.
    • Good: He stood there, blue eyes, tanned skin, chestnut hair blowing in the wind.
    • Good: There he was, blue eyes, tanned skin, chestnut hair blowing in the wind.
    • Good: Blue eyes, tanned skin, chestnut hair blowing in the wind – he was everything she’d ever wanted.
  • Run-Ons – The opposite of sentence fragments, a run-on sentence is a sentence with too many dependent clauses all strung together, normally using the word ‘and’, or sentences that are not linked appropriately with linking language. Run-on sentences are exhausting to read and can leave your reader confused as to what you’re trying to say.
    • Bad: They went first to a restaurant, dark and romantic, and shared a bottle of wine, which was delicious, bubbly, and sweet, and then they just walked the dark streets of the city, holding hands and talking, like they’d always been that way and they always would.
      • This sentence has way too much information, and the emotion the writer is trying to convey is lost in the details
    • Good: First, they went to a restaurant, dark and romantic, and shared a bottle of wine. The wine was delicious – bubbly and sweet – and it danced on her tongue and into her blood stream, leaving her fizzy and euphoric. Later, they walked the dark streets of the city, her hand naturally finding his, like they’d always been this way. Like they always would.
      • Yes, I ended that on a sentence fragment. This is your reminder that knowing the rules means you can break them effectively!
  • Comma-Splice – A comma splice error is a very specific example of a run-on sentence; it is a sentence where two independent clauses (or two complete thoughts/ideas) are joined together by a comma.
    • Bad: He smoothed one hand down her back, his other hand slipped under her shirt to rest on her waist.
      • Two complete actions, one little comma. That poor comma – the stress is too much. She wasn’t meant to carry this much responsibility!
    • Good: He smoothed one hand down her back, the other slipping under her shirt to rest on her waist.
      • This makes the second clause dependent on the first.
    • Good: He smoothed one hand down her back; the other hand slipped under her shirt to rest on her waist.
      • Bonus! Now you know how to use a semi-colon properly!
    • Good: He smoothed one hand down her back. The other hand slipped under her shirt to rest on her waist.
  • Subject-Verb Agreement Errors – To be correct, the sentence’s subject and verb need to agree with each other. This is a surprisingly easy error to make.
    • Bad: The book written by Author A and Author B exploit many common romance novel tropes, including Beauty and the Beast.
      • It’s hard sometimes to determine the subject, especially when there appear to be three. In this case, ‘the book’ is the subject. So the verb should be ‘exploits’.
    • Good: The book, written by Author A and Author B, exploits many common romance novel tropes, including Beauty and the Beast
    • Watch in particular tricky words like ‘Everyone’, ‘Each’, ‘Some’, ‘None of’, ‘Either of’, etc.
  • Parallel Structure Issues – One of the elusive talents of good writing – and one of the aspects that comes only with practice and can’t be taught – is something called ‘cadence’. This is the rhythm and beats of your writing, the music it can make. A great way of stuffing up cadence is getting parallel structure wrong. Parallel structure is using similar structure to build that cadence or rhythm. There are two kinds of parallel structure issues: structure errors and incorrect prepositions.
    • Bad: He loved dancing, singing, and long walks on the beach
      • There’s room for some lovely parallel rhythm here, but the structure is wrong.
    • Good: He loved dancing, singing, and taking long walks on the beach.
      • This structure uses the gerund participle to create parallel structure.
    • Bad: He was interested and excited about her accomplishments.
      • Interested and excited use two different prepositions. Both of these need to be present in the sentence in order for it to be grammatically correct.
    • Good: He was interested in and excited about her accomplishments.
      • The sentence needs to work,, even if either of the verbs is removed.

Go forth with great sentence structure, and bend your writing to your grammatically correct will.

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