1. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Starting senteces wtih verbs

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by DefinitelyMaybe, Sep 20, 2012.

    I should probably start more sentences with verbs, but have difficulty doing so. Does anyone have any advice, or good examples?
     
  2. GHarrison
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    GHarrison Senior Member

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    One of the two sentences in your post begins with a verb. So you are already at 50%.

    You need to be more specific with your question.
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    true, gh, but i wouldn't recommend starting a story or novel with a question...

    how would you start a sentence with a verb, dm?... beginning with a present participle ['ing' verb] also is not recommended, since it's so rarely done correctly by new writers, who usually tack on an action that makes no sense with a verb that indicates an ongoing action... such as:

    that's the kind of physically impossible sentence i see all the time in posted excerpts and in the work of those i mentor...

    what other kind of verb could you start a sentence [that's not a question] with?
     
  4. tlm89
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    tlm89 New Member

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    Why do you feel like you need to start more sentences with verbs?

    I often think: 'I need to be more descriptive here', or 'my character needs more emotion here', but never 'i must start this sentence with a verb'.

    If it doesn't feel natural to plonk a verb at the start, don't. If it feels forced, a reader may pick up on this.

    I always write in third person and past tense. I've just checked my current WIP and noticed a few sentences which start with a past particple. I'm not sure if this is what you mean, or if it will help in any way, but here are some examples.

    'Yawning, Michael buried his face into the pillow, drowning out the alarm's screeches.'

    'Running up the hill made the summit seem farther somehow.'

    '"Walk faster," yelled Karen, grabbing the boy's arm.'
     
  5. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is the problem that happens when I move to general writing issues to ask about a problem from the writing workshop.

    OK, here goes. Take this text.

    Can this text be rewritten to use more sentences that start with verbs? And can this be done in a way that makes the writing more dynamic, that helps convey suspense and then action?

    I feel that the sentences here are all too similar, and having too many sentences starting with "She", "Then", "That", "But" etc. make the prose sound amateurish. (I'm not saying that's the only thing that makes the prose sound amateurish).

    There are blogs etc. that show how dialogue in text can be improved using beats. Are there similar examples for starting sentences with verbs?

    Oh, and is putting the ? outside the brackets of "The Thirty-Nine Steps" correct?

    Edit: In response to the other posts posted while I was trying to come up with some sample text that I could use as an example, I feel that my sentences start badly, and I have too many samey sentences. I've asked about starting sentences with verbs as this was recommended on the Writing Workshop. If the true answer to my question is that I shouldn't be trying this, then that would be an answer to my question. But I do think I need more variation in the types of sentences I use.

    Is there a classic action novel that includes a large number of action sequences that are written very well? That I could review as an example?

    What I was thinking of was starting sentences with verbs that weren't quoted. E.g.

    Too many present participles? Used incorrectly?
     
  6. DanesDarkLand
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    DanesDarkLand Senior Member

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    I think that maybe you should think about the show vs tell issue. Everything you've written in that clip is telling us what happened. Maybe change a few things to showing.

    Shawna glanced at the kidnapper beside her in the back seat.

    He's not looking at me and doesn't seem worried. How fast are we going? Maybe I can open the door and jump out. What is the worst that can happen? They do it all the time in the movies! Then again, they do a lot of things in movies that aren't real. Are they going to kill me? Where are we going? Why?

    That changes the tone of the piece into a thought process. In this type of situation, it might be best to get the sense of how your character is feeling directly from the character themselves.
     
  7. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Very interesting comment. I've read up on showing versus telling, but have difficulty putting it into my own writing. I'll give that a go through the whole piece as an exercise.

    I think that part of my problem is that I'm writing text that looks wrong, but I'm not able to see what's wrong. It's often so obvious once someone points out a problem.

    I'm googling on starting sentences with participles, and there are many sources which appear to be interesting. I'm not assuming that what I find on the internet is gospel, but I'm seeing many examples which give me something to think about. "Encouraged by some online examples, DefinitelyMaybe considered writing the occasional sentence that starts with a past participle."
     
  8. GHarrison
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    GHarrison Senior Member

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    Who said anything about starting a story with a question?

    DM- Your sentences do seem to start abruptly with the subject (which can be an -ing verb phrase). They, I, she, Shawna, etc. That's not necessarily hard to read, although some alternative sentence structure can add elegence to your work.

    GH
     
  9. SRCroft
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    SRCroft Member

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    Yes this is a show vs tell issue. Also Active sentence vs. Passive. You're saying that instead of "The woman was sitting in the car..." that you think you should start with "Sitting in the car..." -- this is not necessarily the case. Think of your goal not some preset thought on grammar usage. Your focused way too much on the construction before you have your frame work and story done. You have to ask yourself what you goal of the sentence is and if you are showing whats going on or telling us.
     
  10. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    >past particple ... here are some examples.
    'Yawning, Michael buried his face into the pillow, drowning out the alarm's screeches.'

    I think these are present participles. They work for simultaneous actions, but as maia pointed out the are too often misused for actions that are not simultaneous.

    'Running up the hill made the summit seem farther somehow.'
    This is not a participle, but a gerund. A verb form is made into a noun; here the subject of the sentence is running.
     
  11. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks everybody.

    The example I gave above was intended to exaggerate the problem I'm having. At this point I think I need some examples of good writing that I can emulate. Off I go to find some classics to read.

    Can someone recommend an author who really structures their prose well? Googling suggested that some people say that Evelyn Waugh wrote some of the most beautiful prose of the 20th century, but I'm not sure I want to read his prose due to what I've read about him as a person.

    Showing versus telling, I think. This is from Beric The Briton: A Story of the Roman Invasion, which is out of copyright. The book was published in 1893 and author G. A. Henty died in 1902.

    (few too many ands there?)
     
  12. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    I've seen this time and time again...."Show don't tell" Can someone give me an example of that this statements means, so it is clear in my head.
     
  13. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wondered about starting a thread in word games.

    One person starts off by giving a "tell" description.

    The next person rewrites that into a "show" description, and then gives another "tell" description.

    And on it goes.

    My attempt to answer cazann34's question:

    tell: Mary came home and found that Robert won £1 million on the lottery.

    show: Mary couldn't help noticing the shiny new Ferrari parked outside the house. She went inside, and found Robert wearing a new Armani suit, grinning like the Cheshire cat. She spied an open envelope from Camelot UK sitting on the table.

    Others will do better.
     
  14. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    Thanks I get it. Tell=the bare facts. Show= elaborating on the facts, by giving details.
     
  15. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    Sounds like a good idea.....why don't you start one?
     
  16. Debbonatrix
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    Debbonatrix New Member

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    Like your idea

    I like this reply and I like the idea of your game. I'm struggling with "showing" while writing in 1st person present. Why does it seem more difficult to "show" in first person? I find myself writing alot of summaries. I think it's because I'm afraid that the reader won't pick up my narrators actions without me explaining them. Any recommendations would be great.


     
  17. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure if my version of "show" actually "shows", or whether it's just telling with more details. My copy of the book "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers" arrived in the post today. And after working hours I'll be able to read the first chapter on showing versus telling.
     
  18. Debbonatrix
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    Debbonatrix New Member

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    Good one. I wish they had a "like" button to click on here.
     
  19. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    It's also good to let the characters do the work with their dialog and actions.

    Mary pulled into the driveway and gaped. She had parked behind a shiny new Ferrari. Who would visit them in such a car? She raced inside, and found Robert wearing a new Armani suit. "Robert!" she cried, "Is that your car?"

    "Sure thing, babe." Robert grinned like the Cheshire cat. "I won the lottery. It's gonna be good times now."
     
  20. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's interesting, he actually says "I won the lottery." Does that still count as showing because a character said the words, rather than the fact of the lottery win being in the narration?
     
  21. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I'm still wondering why you think that starting more sentences with verbs is a good thing. It seems to me an odd solution to your problem.

    BTW, I disgree that the first paragraph you posted is all telling. It just seems that way because everything is packed together. It also combines past tense and present tense in the same paragraph, generally not a good practice. But if you break it apart, I think you'll find that while the past tense sentences are telling, the present tense sentences are the character's thoughts (without tags), thereby putting the reader in her shoes. Also, by breaking the one paragraph into many short ones, you give a stoccato feel to the narrative that raises the tension for the reader.

    I also feel the need to post a reminder that "show, don't tell" is a guideline, not a rule. It seems like you are trying to score the sentence (does it count as showing?). In my mind, anything that closely engages the reader is a good thing. Don't worry so much about what someone else may call it.
     
  22. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    It was suggested in a thread in the Writer's Workshop. I thought it was worth a go. It's in my nature to try all sorts of weird experiments while learning something, and seeing what happens. Usually in the end I start working it out. I don't like the style of learning where I try to do everything right first time, as I find I often learn more from heroic failures than modest successes. Particularly when I make a mess, then try to work out how to fix it.

    I'm aware of the problem of mixing tenses, and I need to be more careful. But I can't work on everything at once. I'll look more carefully at the paragraph I wrote and your analysis of it.

    Yes. But I think that I've been telling too much, and need to show a bit more. Also I tend to include too much, and leave too little unsaid. But trying experiments, hopefully eventually, if not today, I'll be able to strike a better balance.
     
  23. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    It was suggested in a thread in the Writer's Workshop. I thought it was worth a go. It's in my nature to try all sorts of weird experiments while learning something, and seeing what happens. Usually in the end I start working it out. I don't like the style of learning where I try to do everything right first time, as I find I often learn more from heroic failures than modest successes. Particularly when I make a mess, then try to work out how to fix it.

    I'm aware of the problem of mixing tenses, and I need to be more careful. But I can't work on everything at once. I'll look more carefully at the paragraph I wrote and your analysis of it.

    Yes. But I think that I've been telling too much, and need to show a bit more. Also I tend to include too much, and leave too little unsaid. But trying experiments, hopefully eventually, if not today, I'll be able to strike a better balance.
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...yes...

    ...my answer is exactly that... bear in mind that not all advice given by other posters is good advice...

    ...you did, albeit a bit indirectly:

    ...in re this:

    ...which is clearly a question... and my comment was not aimed at you, but only referred to opening sentences in general...
     
  25. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think that's fine, especially that you are open to helpful suggestions and not defensive about your writing. But as mamma pointed out above, not all advice given on the forum is really helpful, and so I find that there still needs to be a filtering process that says, "Okay, that makes sense" to one suggestion and "No, that's not on" to another. Saves you time and energy.

    I didn't mean it as an overall criticism of your work (especially since I haven't seen it), just a passing comment on something that I noticed. But, more to the point, I think that breaking the paragraph apart, without rewriting anything, may serve to put it right: It solves your tense-mixing problem (because each tense now has its own paragraph) and the highlights the "show" aspect of your present tense commentary by putting the reader inside the skin of your character. Like so:


    Okay, I changed a couple of words (italicized) for better flow and balance, but you see what I mean? Lower density of the wording adds intensity by giving the reader a chance to process before moving on. By slowing down the physical reading process, we intensify the action in the readers' mind's eye. And, in my opinion, you're "showing" just fine.
     

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