Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Variety Adds Spice to Your Writing

The word lullaby is derived from "to lull’ and ‘good bye." Lullabies are sung to soothe a child to sleep with their calming rhythm and rhyme.

Rock-a-bye baby on the tree top.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
.

Using the same sing-song sentences, you can create the same effect, lulling your readers to sleep, and that's not what you want to do as an author. You want to keep your reader focused on your story and cause them to be heavy-eyed with the repetitious sound.

Variety adds spice for good writers by creating interest and excitement. Unique words, phrases, and sentences are what identifies the writer’s voice. It makes your writing sound different from someone else's so using variety is a way to keep readers reading. How do you add variety to your writing? By varying sentence structure: length, complexity, types, word order, openings and by varying word choices.

Sentence length adds texture and emphasizes mood. A romantic piece of writing will use longer, liquid sentences than paragraphs written to create suspense.

With roughened hands, he brushed her long, silky hair from her face, gazing into her deep blues eyes as clear and inviting as the mountain stream he remembered from his childhood.

Notice the difference between the lengthier sentence and the following piece of dialogue.
John dashed through the doorway. "Did you see it?"

"See it? What? What are you talking about?"

The abrupt, short interrogative sentences add to the excitement and tension. But remember a good writer uses a mixture of short and long sentences to enrich his narration and dialogue.
One method of varying sentence length is by combining choppy short sentences into a compound or complex structure. The opposite is breaking up strings of compound sentences that become dull and unwieldy. One method of combining two short sentences is using a conjunction to coordinate thoughts. Take for example this sentence.

She hadn’t been to a cider mill in years. Her memory evoked the aroma of crushed apples and the sweet taste of crispy fried donuts. Change these two sentences to:
She hadn’t been to a cider mill in year, yet her memory evoked the aroma of crushed apples and the sweet taste of crispy fried donuts

Combining the two sentences with but, still or yet coordinates the idea and adds variety. Another method of combining two ideas is using a dependent clause.
Though she hadn’t been to a cider mill in years, her memory evoked the aroma of crushed apples and the sweet taste of crispy fried donuts.

A final strategy to combine two sentences is embedding.
The cider mill, which she hadn't been to in years, still evoked the aroma of crushed apples and the sweet taste of crispy friend donuts.

In this sentence, John provided excellent counsel. He convinced the jury, becomes, John, providing excellent counsel, convinced the jury.

Another way to generate variety in your writing is to use numerous sentence types, mixing declarative sentences (statements) with commands or requests, exclamations and rhetorical questions. Notice the variation of sentences in this piece of internal dialogue.

Elise closed her eyes. Laughter and tears jumbled her emotions. Stop your foolishness. (command) Hysteria, that’s what this is.(declarative) How could I think Kevin would do this to me? (rhetorical question)

Varying word order is a unique method of creating an unexpected element in sentence structure. This strategy works well as a means of emphasis. Consider the sentence, I love Paris, and then notice the change when altering the location of the direct object. Paris, I love.

The same effect is created by reversing other parts of the sentence. He was a handsome man. Especially noticeable was his stature. This last sentence begins with the complement and the verb follows and precedes the subject, stressing the word stature. Using a keyword at the end of the sentence is a way to emphasis and draw attention to it.

Sentences, beginning with the subject followed by the verb, can become dull and monotonous when they appear one after another. Use clauses, phrases, conjunctive adverbs (however, likewise), and appositives (a noun or noun phrase re-naming the noun or pronoun it follows) to strengthen emphasis, to clarify relationships, or to modify the subject in a more creative way.

Look at the following simple subject and compound verb sentence. She sat on the beach and watched the gulls fly over the water.

Now, notice the variety of ways this sentence can be changed to add interest.
While she sat on the beach, she watched the gulls fly over the water.
Sitting on the beach, she watched the gulls fly over the water.
As the gulls flew over the water, she sat on the beach and watched.
Above the water the gulls flew as she sat on the beach and watched.
Watching the gulls fly over the water, she sat on the beach.

Each of these sentences seem to emphasis a different element. Look at sentences in your writing and write the thought using different sentence structure. See if you prefer one over the other, or notice if one adds more emphasis to one of your points more than the other.

Editors and agents are turned off by sentences and paragraphs beginning with the same word. The rule of thumb is no more than two of the same words should begin paragraphs on a page or sentences in a paragraph. Knowing the vast number of options available to begin a sentence, you can solve the problem of unwarranted repetition. In a novel or short story, try employing creative sentence structure so you can begin paragraphs without overworking the use of character names or subsequent pronouns.

The repetition of words is effective when deliberately used to emphasize a thought or idea. Study your paragraphs and note if you have used the same word or phrase more than twice in close proximately.

Callie glanced at the address again. In the small city, she’d found the street easily. Keeping her gaze on the winding street, she glanced at the slip of paper and reread the address. The houses downtown stood side by side with black addresses on the houses. But now the houses were larger, standing back behind tall fences. She studied the wrought iron fences, hoping to catch the address there.

If so, use a thesaurus to find appropriate synonyms to vary your words. Notice the variation in words like: house, address, and fence.

Callie glanced at the address again. In the small city, she’d found the street easily. Keeping her gaze on the winding road, she glanced at the slip of paper and reread it. The houses downtown stood side by side with black numbers on the siding. But now the homes were larger, standing back behind tall fences. She studied the wrought iron barricades, hoping to catch the address there.

Notice the variety by using the word home in place of house, road instead of street, address became numbers, barricades replaces the reuse of fences.

Lullabies drone babies to sleep, but writers hope to waken the reader with their brilliant, witty, and exciting language. Don’t let repetitious, bland words or sentences bring an editor’s rejection to your door. Keep your writing sharp, clear, and stimulating by using variety.

6 comments:

Camille Cannon (Eide) said...

This article came at a good time for me, Gail. I'm a new writer, and also a perfectionist, detail freak and lover of words. I am care to avoid some of those common noobie mistakes you listed in your previous post. Now as I move through my story, I find myself stuck using many of the same actions, beats and sentence structures. I look at other novels for ideas for variety. Hopefully, the examples you mention will sink in and I'll be able to create my own without the need for borrowing from others.

Thanks, Gail. This is great stuff!

Carrie Turansky said...

Hi Gail,
I got my copy of Writing the Christian Romance today, and I am already finding it very helpful. Thanks for all you have given back to help others!

Carrie T.

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Camille - I'm so pleased the info was pertinent to you. Its neat to find info that helps right away. I think we all learn things we don't need right at the moment, but perhaps later, but it's nice when its usuable now. Hope some of the ideas stick with you and helps you with your writing.

Blessings,
Gail

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Carrie - Thanks for buying the book and I'm glad you've already found something you can use. I think we can all learn. I did while writing the book. Sometimes it's things you know, but when you hear it again, it comes to you in a new light - and makes a difference.

Blessings for the new year and lots of book sales.

Gail

Pammer said...

This is a great article. I struggle with starting most of my sentences with She or He.

Thank you for addressing this issue.

Hugs!

Gail Gaymer Martin said...

Hi Pammer - You're so welcome. I love to find topics that strike people's need. I hope this gives you some ideas on how to be creative with your sentences.

Hugs back.
Gail