Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sentence Structure

This is something that has come up a couple of times this week with writers I know so I figure maybe some of you out there might find it helpful to think about, too because if you're a writer, sentence structure is an extremely important tool. The sentences you write need to match what is occuring in the scene you're writing or the reader will feel a dissonance.

In an intense situation, how do you communicate—with yourself and with others? Odds are you use short sentences and short, blunt words. It’s when you’re relaxed that you may wax eloquent with long sentences and complex words. Doesn’t matter whether the emotion is anger or passion or grief or love. When the emotion is powerful, the words are in short supply.

If you use this in your writing, then just by using short, intense sentences and words you can convey the depth of emotion and/or sense of urgency your character is feeling.

By the same token, if you want to convey a sense that the characters are relaxed and everyone is safe, longer, more eloquent sentences will do that. You will be showing the reader how the characters feel rather than telling them.

If this sounds odd to you, watch people around you when they are in the caught up in powerful emotions.

Mind you, if you’re a writer, you already do that. One writer friend of mine jokes that we writers are all nosy. We can’t help watching and listening to people and making up stories in our heads about them. I think that if you read a book that captures your heart and resonates deeply with you, it’s a given that the author IS a people watcher.

Often writers long for the day they can be home full time to write. And it’s wonderful to be able to do that but.... But a writer NEEDS to be around people, too. So sometimes that day job is just what a reader needs to spur him or her on to write effectively. If you have to work to support your writing habit (and most writers do), take heart in knowing it adds to the depth and power of your work—or it can, if you let it.

So...watch people around you. Notice how their speech patterns vary depending on the situation. Notice how they move, what they do with their hands, how they stand, sit or walk, how they breathe. And use it to make your writing feel real.

We, as writers, are privileged to have the chance to mirror for others what they might not see or notice on their own. We’re able to put into words what they may instinctively know but cannot articulate. It’s both a privilege and a responsibility. And sentence structure can help us do so more effectively. So whether you loved or hated grammar in school (and it was NOT my favorite subject!), if you want to be a writer, really pay attention to these details and it will make your writing increasingly powerful.

April

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