Fourth Commandment

Thou Shalt Not Commit Faulty Sentence Structure

The entire story has a structure. Every sentence has a structure. Some new writers are just not very good at formulating complex sentences…yet.

How do you get better at this?

– Read great writers. Take one of their complex sentences and recreate it with all new nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Repeat this process until you can create brand new complex sentences without directly borrowing the structure.

– Take a paragraph you have written and rewrite it in three new ways: once with all really short sentences, once with moderately sized sentences, and once with the longest sentences you can muster. Which one seems to serve the scene better?  Would a variety of sentence lengths work to give a sharper, more abrupt tone to one part of the paragraph and a more broad, reflective tone to another part of the paragraph?

– Write a sentence or two of narration (author speaking to reader) and then try expressing the very same information with character dialogue. Should the sentences be structured differently?

– Write a paragraph about two characters witnessing a sudden catastrophe, but write it twice. First, from the point of view of two characters who have caused the incident and are calmly enjoying their handiwork. Next, write about the same catastrophe, but now from the point of view of two other characters to whom the catastrophe is happening — their lives in danger.  Should the sentence structure differ?

And while you are waiting for your sentence structure to bloom, keep things as simple as you need to. Essentially, keep yourself out of trouble. It is much better to treat a potential publisher with a first chapter written in less complicated, easier-to-understand sentences than to boggle them with indecipherable complexity that (even slightly) obscures the story ideas that you are trying to communicate.


Bottom Line for FQP Submissions:

If you submit a manuscript that reveals a prevailing problem with sentence structure, you basically have two options: Resubmit at a later date with improved sentence structure, or work with one of FQP’s developmental editors to resolve the sentence structure issues (typically from $50 – $200.)


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