Spending time on the mechanics of sentence structure can make a huge difference in your writing. Sentence structure is important, and as much as I don’t like writing blog posts on grammar, this is something all writers should know. Learning how to vary sentence structure is a great skill to have and will save you frustration in the long run.
Here are a few ways to improve and vary sentence structure in your novel:
Vary sentence length
Do you see a problem with this paragraph? “Amy was tired. She stepped outside. There was a rabbit. It looked up at her. It ran away.” It’s pretty boring, isn’t it? (and awful). This paragraph is full of short, simple sentences, so it’s not very compelling writing. Maybe try this instead; “Amy was tired. As she stepped outside, she noticed the rabbit near the bushes. It looked up at her for a moment before running away.” Combining long and short sentences is crucial to building interesting scenes. Use sentence length to focus attention on something in a paragraph. You can make a sentence pop by keeping it short.
Learn about complex and compound sentences
A compound sentence consists of two or more independent clauses joined by conjunctions like ‘and,’ ‘but,’ and ‘or’, or they can be joined by adjectives like ‘however’ or ‘therefore. For example, “Amy wanted to go outside, but it was raining.” Combining two sentences instead of splitting them up is a helpful tool to keep your writing flowing.
A complex sentence contains one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. For example, “Amy returned the computer after she noticed it was damaged.”
Understanding these types of sentences will help you improve your sentence structure and vary your sentence length. Learn how to effectively use words like ‘but’, ‘and’, and ‘or’ to combine two sentences that don’t need to be separated OR learn how to construct complex sentences that get your point across.
Cut the clutter
Avoid adding phrases that add nothing to your sentence and learn when to cut the clutter. If your sentences are too wordy, try to figure out what you can cut out. Learning how to tighten up your sentences is important. To do this, focus on what words you can use to say the same thing. Never say in a paragraph what you can say in a sentence. Try to cut filler words like this from your writing: just, very, really, maybe, perhaps, etc. They’re usually not necessary and they will help improve your sentences.
For example: “Amy was at the end of line” can be very simply changed to “Amy was last.”
Read it out loud
The best way to determine whether your writing sounds awkward or not is to read your writing out loud. If a sentence doesn’t look right, you need to hear if it sounds right. If you read out loud, you’ll be able to focus on sentence structure and whether or not you’re varying sentence lengths or using unnecessary words. Try it out!