Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: Sun, 3 Oct 2004
The biggest challenge in writing is to
avoid boring the reader. One
boring writing is repetitive sentence structure.
Consider this sentence: "He opened the
A good enough sentence, describing a
simple action, moving the
forward in a straightforward fashion.
Now look at this paragraph:
He opened the bedroom
door. He stepped silently up
to the bed. He
pulled out a gun from under his jacket. He fired
three shots into the
sleeping body in front of him.
Even though this describes a dramatic
action scene, it's just about
boring a piece of prose as you'll find anywhere. And yet, there's
wrong with any single sentence - the problem is repetition, of sentence
structure and of the sentence subject: "He... He... He..."
So, how do we improve this? How can we
vary the sentence structure
avoid the repetition of "he".
For starters, "he" has a name - use it
part of the time. Not all of
time, of course. And use the name early - be careful of "He opened the
Jim stepped into the room." since that sounds like these are two
Next, we can re-order some of the
sentences. For example: "Reaching
his jacket, he pulled out a gun."
We can also look for alternate subjects.
In the example above, for
we might be able to use: "The gun fired three times."
Each of those approaches can be overused,
of course, leading to
forms of bad writing. Is the following an improvement on the first
The door opened in front
of him. The bed came
closer as Jim stepped
into the room. Jim's gun came out from under his
jacket. The gun fired
three shots into the sleeping body in front of Jim.
What we want is to be able to use a
variety of techniques and
and to use them effectively. When is it best to use a longer, more
sentence, or a short and direct one? When can we use a different
than the actual character performing the action ("Jim fired the gun"
"The gun fired")?
The exercise: in 300 to 500 words, lead a
character through a
actions. Be careful not to get bogged down in unnecessary detail ("he
turned the door handle, pushed the door open, stepped outside, closed
door behind him."), but don't omit any required steps either ("Oh no,
been captured." "Thanks for freeing me," Jim said once he was freed.)
(You may also want to review Florence
Cardinal's exercise on
When critiquing, look at how well the
sentence structure was varied
things moving along without getting tedious. If necessary, make
about how to improve flow and pacing.
Web site created by
Rhéal Nadeau and
the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.