If you’re reading this, congratulations. You’ve overcome that raspy, small voice in your head telling you not to write your story. Telling you that your dream of writing and publishing is a fool’s quest. You have also overcome those well-meaning people who tried to talk you out of it.
You: “I’m going to write a book!”
Friend with blank stare on their face: “um . . . Really?”
You: “Yup! I’ve had this idea in my head for a long time and I am going to turn it into a book!”
Friend rolls eyes: “Oh please. Do you know what the statistical chances of actually making money are?”
That person may be sincere in their desire to save you from pain and suffering. Or, they could be a jerk. Either way, you’ve ignored them and decided to press on. Good for you!
But writing a book is hard work. You have all these scene’s floating in your head. You’ve got side characters to flesh out and fight scenes or love scenes to describe. It’s an exciting time!
I want to encourage you. Keep writing your story. But right now you need to stop and listen to me.
Your memorable characters, the unique plot twist, the heart pounding car chase through the Vatican. None of it matters if your prose get in the way.
I am talking about simple sentence construction. Subject, verb & prepositional phrase.
Look, if you go to your favorite search engine and ask “How many words are in the English language?” You will find a website called languagemonitor.com, which states there are 1,025,109 words in English.
Holy crap. That is a lot of words!
A large part of your writer’s journey will be figuring out what words to use and what order to put them in. That is sentence craft.
Here’s some basic tips I have learned as I have improved as a writer.
1.) Less is more.
When writing, be as impactful as you can with the least amount of words. An example:
John was running through the field, trying to avoid the police who were running after him.
Now compare that sentence to this:
John ran through the field with the police close behind.
I don’t know about you, but the 2nd sentence is clearer, more concise. It conveys the same information as the first one, but is easier to read.
2.) Avoid conjunctions when you can.
I grew up believing conjunctions were awesome. Big, cumbersome compound sentences sounded awesome to my teen-aged mind. Now they sound convoluted. Take a gander at this.
Mary got back into her car and drove to work at the job she hated and dealt with her cranky boss who would be angry with her because she was late.
I know it’s a run-on. But look at this this one.
Mary got back into her car. She drove to the job she hated knowing her cranky boss would be angry with her. She was late.
Three perfectly good sentences out of that compound sentence mess.
3.) Avoid the word was whenever possible.
Now I’m not saying was should be banned from the language. There are times when it is appropriate to use. However, it can be a crutch.
She was going to go out with Robert, but she cancelled due to illness.
This isn’t a bad sentence, but I think the next sentence is better.
She wanted to go out with Robert, but she cancelled due to illness.
By changing the tense and replacing was with wanted, I gave you a little clue into the woman’s thinking. She did want to go! Before, you had no idea on her thoughts about Robert. However, in the second sentence, you at least get a little clue.
4.) Make your special words special . . . by not using them.
When I was an undergraduate, I used however, in all of my English and History essays. After about four or five papers, Dr. Mueller sat me down and told me to stop. It was getting annoying. I took a perfectly good word and over used it. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. The word however, was now my crutch. For the rest of that year I allowed myself only one use of however per paper.
You should do the same with your favorite words, too.
I love the word verdant. While working on my manuscript, which is set in Tudor Ireland, I only used the word verdant twice. This was hard because if verdant ever fit a place, it was Ireland. But limiting myself to two uses did two things. Chiefly, it forced me to use other words to describe Ireland’s green hills and valleys. More importantly, when I did use verdant it had the emotional impact that I wanted.
Sentence craft is important to fiction. It can take an interesting story and elevate it to something memorable. I encourage you to find out as much as you can about writing better sentences every day. Start out by buying a little book on grammar. If you have the time, take a class at your local community college on writing. Whatever you do, don’t give up.
Remember, writing is a craft. You can and will get better at it.
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