1. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    Structuring a sentence

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Stammis, Sep 9, 2015.

    So I have been writing in a specific way that creates shorter sentences and I would like to hear your opinions. So here is an example:

    "A flash of light illuminates his still closed eyes, slowly he opens them. Without a single thought in his mind he starts looking around. He tries to take a step forward but instead he bumps into a piece of glass in front him him. He touches the glass, trying to find away around it. He is stuck."

    Especially the last sentence. Instead of writing for instance, "but he soon realises that he is stuck."

    Whats your thoughts about this?
     
  2. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    It's important to vary sentence length. You've got sentences with 13 words (although that should be two sentences - the comma should be a full stop), 11 words, 20 words, 10 words and 3 words. Nice and varied. If you used the alternative example you gave it would be 13, 11, 20, 10 and 18 - less varied. But if you changed all of them to shorter sentences you'd have a problem again.

    I wouldn't recommend counting the words in each of your sentences but if you have several ones of similar length in a row then change it up a bit. There are tools online (e.g. http://www.neilstoolbox.com/clarity-index/) that will calculate your average sentence length for you - just beware they are designed for non-fiction writing rather than novels, so don't worry too much about what they say. They're useful in giving you an idea of patterns in your writing.
     
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  3. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    Thank you. I got 11 words per sentence on average, so I should be alright. But as you say, I have a little trouble when to put a comma or when to end the sentence because I am used to writing scientific reports. When you mean, not designed for novels, do you mean its advice on breaking down the paragraphs down into 2-4 sentences?
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Assuming shorter sentences is the goal and not the issue in need of fixing (not clear in your OP), a simple trick is to disassemble the paragraph if its reading flat to you.

    A flash of light illuminates his still closed eyes, slowly he opens them. [Comma splice. This should be two separate sentences, else reworded.]
    Without a single thought in his mind he starts looking around.
    He tries to take a step forward but instead he bumps into a piece of glass in front him. [If he takes a step forward, where else would the glass be?]
    He touches the glass, trying to find [a] [way] around it.
    He is stuck.


    Save for the last sentence, you don't have much variation in sentence length. Perhaps good for scientific papers, not so good for fiction writing. You need some variation to keep it dynamic. You've also got a lot of over-tell (in red). Avoid trying, starting, beginning, etc. unless the trying, starting or beginning is the actual focus, not the subsequent action verb.
     
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  5. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    The whole thing is designed for non-fiction so I would use it to get the stats but not pay any attention to its interpretation of them. For example, if you have dialogue you're going to end up with a lot of one-sentence paragraphs which the clarity index is going to read as a bad thing. As novelists, we know this isn't a problem.

    Comma usage is pretty much the same in non-fiction and fiction except with the added complication of dialogue.
     
  6. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    Thank you, you make some good points. So having long sentences is not an issue for a writer, like something that everyone agrees is bad? But instead it is the variation of the sentences that is key? I read a few pages from my favourite author, Conn Iggulden, and I realised that his sentences are between 20 to 30 words long, and very rarely uses shorter than 20 word sentences. I think he is one of my biggest inspirations as an author. Are you familiar with his books?
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    No, I am not, but if you're looking for a numerical formula of word length for sentences that is ideal, I'm afraid no such formula exists. What matters is dynamism of delivery, and this can be achieved in uncounted ways. One of my favorites, China MiƩville, is pretty consistent with sentence length. Another writer I worship, Samuel R. Delany, is anything but consistent. What they both have in common (each in their respectively unique way) is masterful use of language and presentation of idea, intent, tone, pace, etc. Having long/short/medium/giant/tiny sentences is in no way a problem in fiction, so long as there is clarity of both syntax and intent. A numerical count of words is not the goal.
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Putting aside sentence length for a moment, let's look at the structuring of these sentences. In this case the length and the structure are somewhat tied together because each sentence has very similar descriptive components (again, save for the last one).

    A flash of light illuminates his still closed eyes
    [and] slowly he opens them.

    Without a single thought in his mind he starts looking around.

    He tries to take a step forward but instead he bumps into a piece of glass in front him.

    He touches the glass, trying to find [a] [way] around it.

    He is stuck.


    In red you have syntax that modifies what we see. In blue you have the action this modifier is intended to modify or enhance. In each sentence the structure is very simple, an action that is modified by how we are meant to perceive the character's perception of that action. 2 parts, nothing else. This is having a side-effect of similar sentence lengths, yes, but the more important result is that it's not dynamic in the way it reads. It doesn't feel organic. It feels like stage directions or instructions for a POV character in a video game. This isn't how we (people) really behave or perceive the world. We're much messier than this, much more dynamic.

    Look how dynamic your sentences are in structure when you are communicating with me in a natural conversation:

    Thank you, you make some good points.

    So having long sentences is not an issue for a writer, like something that everyone agrees is bad?

    But instead it is the variation of the sentences that is key?

    I read a few pages from my favourite author, Conn Iggulden, and I realised that his sentences are between 20 to 30 words long, and very rarely uses shorter than 20 word sentences.

    I think he is one of my biggest inspirations as an author.

    Are you familiar with his books?

    That's organic and natural. You have complex sentences and ideas strung together alongside simple sentences with simple ideas. That's dynamic.
     
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  9. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    Aha, I see what you are getting at. Thank you again for that detailed explanation.
     
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  10. Jeff Countryman
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    Jeff Countryman Living the dream Supporter

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    I don't have anything to add to this conversation. Just wanted to say it was very educational to read. Thanks for starting it. :)
     

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