Writing a Page Turner: Pt 5
Sentences: their abuse, misuse, formation, creation, and implementation are the structural medium for the telling of your tale.
Sentences are not benign and indifferent in prose; they, coupled with our imagination, bring to life the reality of our words.
Sentences are also the bane of any writer’s existence…
Whether you write fiction, non-fiction or a hybrid of each it is essential to ask yourself, “Have I varied my sentence lengths and types to maintain flow and build rhythm in my book?”
This is important for maintaining interest. This has nothing to do with style – boring is not a style and neither is choppy, it’s just poor penmanship. The rhythm of your words should mimic the emotional investment of your reader and the tension in the story.
The Short Sentence
“Stop. I mean it. Don’t take another step.”
The short sentence could be one word or several (I will divulge the mysteries behind the one word sentence in a future post). The short sentence is fast-paced when used in a series or abrupt when used alone in the middle of longer sentences.
The Long Sentence
“Her eyes lingered on the frayed curtain billowing in the smallest bedroom of the second-floor dormitory: her birth place in more ways than one.”
The long sentence may or may not use a colon or semi-colon to extend its length, but the longest sentences often use these handy bits of punctuation or conjunctive words (and, but, then, than, however, etc.) to extend meaning from one thought to the next and show how closely they are linked. These sentences slow down thought patterns and allow the reader to linger in the moment. Often it’s in the details provided that give these sentences their length, weight, and importance.
The Medium Sentence
“This night looked the same as any other night, except it bled in its inky blackness. The shadows moved with an inter-dimensionality that gave the night its fluid appearance.”
The medium sentence is the glue that holds our writing together. Most of the time, most of our sentences will be this length. This allows us to convey ideas at a natural pace – an even walk instead of a mad-dash or saunter.
The Sentence Fragment
“But I thought — Surely you don’t mean… Going away!”
Whether you choose to use an em dash (two short dashes or one long dash) to give the impression of speech being cut off, or an ellipsis to show a thought trailing (used more often in middle-grade fiction but occasionally in genre fiction), or simply an incomplete sentence often referred to as a fragment or phrase you are utilizing the essence of time lapse. There is both a sense of urgency and a moment of pause that give this choice a unique quality not to be overdone or the drama it creates becomes melodramatic rather than suspenseful.
When we write a first or second draft we are often looking at the support structure: do I have holes in my plot line? Should this back story be removed or just shortened? etc. In the third draft phase you are looking more closely at your word and sentence choices – this is where flow starts to matter in the crafting of your magnum opus.
The use and refinement of sentence structure is closely linked to pacing. Once you know how you want your readers to feel during a certain scene, organize your sentences in such a way as to help build empathy and a solid connection with your reader.
Next week we’ll look at intent, the goal of a scene or chapter and how that can strengthen and bring power your work.