1. mikeinseattle
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    mikeinseattle Member

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    Your "Top 3" non-story-related tips?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by mikeinseattle, Oct 18, 2015.

    I am eager to hear your top three (or five?) writing tips for CRAFTING sentences.
    (not story advice please. I'm referring to grammar/style/clarity mistakes, things which interrupt the flow of a narrative and annoy the reader.)

    For example, I have heard these repeated:

    1-Avoid passive voice
    2-Avoid adverbs if possible
    3-Avoid use of 'ing' words.


    I am interested in writing as clearly as possible and I hope to gather a running list here of what you guys see as the most common 'amateur' mistakes in crafting sentences for fiction. Thanks in advance!
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2015
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  2. Lyrical
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    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

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    I haven't really thought about if I have a Top 3 sentence-crafting rules. I guess I just have a general idea things I try to keep in mind. Let me see if I can pick out a core three.

    Maybe if I have a number one, it is to use passive voice sparingly. There is a place for it, as there is a place for everything in creative writing. But your narrative flows better if there isn't an academic feel to it, which too much passive voice creates.

    I trend toward long sentences, so I always have to remind myself to look for those when I edit. Sentence length is important. Our brains like to read variety, so it's good to have both.

    You mentioned adverbs. I like adverbs to a degree, but I hate, hate, hate when they get abused. Recently, this fanfiction went viral for claiming to be from an uber-Christian mom wanting to make HP less witchcrafty for her kids. The claim is false, the fanfiction story was satirical, but because I was curious I looked up the actual story. It's incredibly painful to read, since every sentence contains an adverb.

    Beneath the spoiler jump is an excerp, if you are curious about it:
    "Enough of your lies," Dumbledore exclaimed bravely. "We know who you are."

    Voldemort blinked stupidly; and then he uttered childishly, "I'm sorry ... what?"

    Dumbledore smiled smartly. "You're pretending to be dumb, I see. Well I'm not stupid. We know all about how much you hate Christians."

    "What? I don't hate Christians," Voldemort lied dishonestly. "What are you even talking about?"

    "You're still pretending to be dumb," the Reverend pointed out truthfully. "We know all about your plot to illegalize Christianity, Voldemort."

    Voldemort blinked stupidly again and questioned evilly, "Wait, this is about my Reddit account?"

    "Is that what you call your godless coven?" Dumbledore queried knowingly. "Well yes I have indeed seen your so-called Reddit Account; and just try to deny your hatred of Christianity when you post things like this-'kristians all sux. their religion is stoopid and should be illegal. i will rite to congres and tell them to make law.'"

    Harry Potter laughed intelligently; because Voldemort did not even understand proper spelling and grammar.

    "That was a joke," Voldemort retorted unintelligently. "That whole account is a joke. I mean, 'Voldemort_the_righteous_skeptic'?" He laughed with the nervousness of one who knows he is damned. "Of course you're not supposed to take it seriously."

    "Do you think religion is a laughing matter young man?" Dumbledore demanded righteously. "Well it is not! What sort of a joke is trying to outlaw religion?!"

    "Of course I don't actually want to outlaw religion," Voldemort uttered deceptively. "That would be ridiculous. I just got annoyed by the ridiculous straw man some Christians have made out of atheism, so, whenever I see someone ranting about how depraved and evil we nonbelievers are, I reply with something like that. You know, taking that stereotype to an extreme to point out how ridiculous it is.

    "Also, a small but vocal minority of atheists exists that stereotypes and mocks anyone who disagrees with them. They can be just as hateful as people think we all are, and that does real damage. They bug me as much as the straw man arguments do — and they give those arguments credibility — so I do the same thing to them, replying with an extreme version of what they said to highlight the absurdity of it."

    I think those are my main three. If I think of any others, I'll come back and edit. Good question, though! It will be interesting to see how others respond.

    To be fair, I think the way you craft your sentences depends a lot on your personal style. A lot of writers like to use more flowery, descriptive language, while others like to be more minimalist.
     
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  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Avoid filter words.
    Don't use fancy dialogue tags when "said" will do.
    No rules are absolute, there are always exceptions.
     
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  4. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    Don't waste the readers time.
    You have to understand a rule to properly break it.
    Keep writing.
     
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  5. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    1. Never repeat the same sentence structure twice in a row if you can avoid it.
    2. Semicolons are evil and confusing to read. Avoid sentences that would need them, but if you need one, dashes are easier to read (A lot of people would probably quibble with this but it's how I write).
    3. Be concise - you don't have to be wordy to be poetic. The only run-on sentences should be the ones you put there on purpose.
     
  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    1. avoid an abundance of was' ( they are essential - but it's more essential to see what was actually does to a sentence. )
    2. fragments aren't all bad
    3. slanting of information can help establish voice and improve sentence structure. i.e. No pantylines, looking good, Claudia! - Instead of - Claudia admired herself in the mirror.
     
  7. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also - this is paragraph structure not sentence structure - but white space and short paragraphs are your friend.

    Remember - writing is as much a visual art as painting. We think we consume words with our brain, but really we consume them with our eyes. Long blocks of text are visually unappealing, intimidating, and unshapely. If you have a long paragraph, usually you should consider breaking it up. Your page will look prettier both to you as a the author and to the reader.

    We paint with words, but those words form a series of vaguely rectangular blocks on the page. The geometric shape and feel of those blocks is very important to reader experience, and not to be neglected.

    ...and this post could have all been one paragraph in terms of subject matter - but you understood more of it because I broke it up into four chunks based on sub-points. See what I did there?
     
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  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Yes to this!
    Someone should tell this to Will Self - I could not get through Umbrella because there is essentially no breaks.
     
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    1 - if you've heard a turn of phrase before, don't use it
    2 - the more unusual a word, the less frequently you should repeat that word
    3 - read your story out loud to yourself (or to an audience). Better yet, get somebody else to read it out loud. Nothing flags up awkward sentence structure or inadequate punctuation than hearing it read out loud.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2015
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  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That excerpt can NOT be serious? Surely they were taking the piss? :eek:
     
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  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have to quibble: People use passive voice so rarely that I don't think that a rule against it is worth the space that it occupies.

    Some random guidelines:

    - Avoid what I call weakening modifiers. (I don't know what they're properly called.) Example:

    John was a little tall, so he had to stoop a bit when he entered through the slightly low doorway.

    changes to

    John was tall, so he had to stoop when he entered through the low doorway.

    - In dialogue, every tag that uses anything but "said" should have a good excuse.

    - Don't do the "multiple descriptions for variety" thing. Just stick to names and pronouns. That is, if John is referred to five times in a page, he's either "John" or "he", not

    John
    The young man
    The brown-haired teen
    The student
    The football player

    etc., etc.
     
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  12. Lyrical
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    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

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    They weren't serious about writing a Christian Harry Potter, but I don't know if they thought they were writing their bit of satire well. Because heavens, no.

    This one gets me: "Voldemort lied dishonestly."
    Lied dishonestly. Really?
     
  13. nippy818
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    nippy818 Active Member

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    1. write, always keep writing. Even if you hit a block, write. Little rules and tidbits have their place, but just keep writing.
    2. When doing a first draft, let your muse take hold, ignore the inner editor telling you your wrong, when you have that creative spark, run with it
    3.Write
     
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  14. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Semicolons are not at all hard to read; in fact, they are often exactly what the sentence needs.
     
  15. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is really only one tip I can think of right now:

    Learn grammar. No matter how pedantic or obscure a grammatical mechanism seems, you should make an effort to understand and remember it. Grammar is not a set of rules people invented to restrict your freedom and make your life difficult. It is the mechanism we use to assign meaning to other people's utterances. If you care at all about how other people interpret what you write, then it is your responsibility to understand how it is parsed.

    Other than that, I will second these:
    Note that none of those tips are of the "avoid _____" variety. "Avoid _____" is not good advice; it is a way to encourage mediocrity. Misuse of a tool is a problem, but the solution is to learn how to use it effectively, not to throw it away.
     
  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well said, especially about the negative approach—don't do this, don't do that—and also the grammar. I guess I took it for granted, when making my own list, that good grammar is necessary for good writing. It's certainly worth a mention. Grammar is the fundamental building-stone of writing, and if you haven't already mastered enough grammar to write coherently then you're starting from the wrong place.
     
  17. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is fun. I am a 100% amateur, but I will respond anyway.

    1. A dull story can be improved by interesting characters, but rarely is an interesting story improved by dull characters. Create interesting characters.
    2. I hate to say "kill your darlings" because it is too dam pretentious.... but, if multiple people tell you a particular line or extract you like is crap, then believe them. Chances are it is purple and incongruous.
    3. I write for fun, I have no delusions of grandeur. I know that even if I achieved moderate success I will be worse off than I am in my current career. It is a vanishingly small percentage of people who reach the upper echelons of any of the "popular" occupations. Don't get heady with bullshit.

    Ta da, my three points of wisdom written from an entire absence of wisdom.
     
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  18. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say I agree with about 1/3 of these rules, if that many.

    So I think my rules would be:

    Explore, experiment, get feedback, and develop your style based on reader reaction, not arbitrary rules;

    Don't take any tools out of your writer's toolbox, even if you don't think you're going to use them. Unlike regular toolboxes, writer's toolboxes have infinite space, so there's no need to banish anything you might ever want to use;

    Have fun, and if you can, be prolific. The more you write, the more comfortable you'll be with experimenting and taking chances with a single piece, because it's not your only baby.
     
  19. Masterspeler
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    Masterspeler Active Member

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    Here are my rules. Some very good ones I follow or learned the hard way, are up above.

    1) Read aloud. It's been said, but I will add this. Play act the dialogue. "I will not. You have to do it, man." sounds weird as opposed to "I won't. You gotta do it, man." I found so many of these in mine, only because word corrects "gotta" and "gonna" etc

    2) I do change some of the "said"s. I try to use "said", "asked" or "yelled" if the last two are appropriate. Sometimes the dialogue cannot be rearranged and committing them directly creates confusion, as to who said what, especially in three way dialogue. Only so many he's and she's. I do tend to skip the tag like "I like it," she smiled. Yes, I know its "wrong" but reading said over and over and over in short bursts dialogue in three people will get messy quick. And no matter the rules, the plot precedes everything.

    3) The plot precedes everything. No matter the rules for structure and such, sometimes you cannot avoid awkwardness in large group dialogues. Like a conference call on a starship view screen. Just use "the captain said?" That works up until three captains meet and discuss why the admiral's shuttle is missing. Or when you have seven people debate what to do next, and offer their ideas and observations. I could change it to accommodate sentence structure, paragraph structure and punctuation, but if it interferes with my vision of what is going on, then it stays as erroneous as it may seen. Creative license at its best

    AB
     
  20. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Read. And I don't mean read other fiction. That tip's been bandied around enough. I mean read on how to write. Any book. Educate yourself on how to craft a story, how to use the language. Yes, practice is the best teacher, but there's no reason you have to bump around in the dark.
     
  21. mikeinseattle
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    mikeinseattle Member

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    Thank you to everyone here. Great responses!
     
  22. rainy_summerday
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    rainy_summerday Active Member

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    In case you are still looking for other advice...
    Well, these are my guidelines when it comes to crafting sentences:

    1. Don't expect to fall in love with all of your sentences, otherwise you will never finish. However, DO fall in love with some of them. If you cannot love them yourself, how can you expect others to enjoy them?

    2. Mind your repetitions. Small words such as pronouns tend to be hard to avoid, twice is fine. Mentioning them thrice... change it. Fancy words and fixed expressions should not be repeated in two paragraphs following one another unless it is the subject matter itself.

    3. Don't avoid things just for the sake of avoiding them, e.g. passive voice, adverbs, etc. As long as you vary your sentences, your choice in words... that's fine.
     
  23. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'll try this game, I guess. Here are things that are important to me:

    1. As others have said, no rules in creative writing are absolute. Keep every tool in your toolbox even if you rarely, if ever, use some of them. It's important to be willing to use any one of them if it is what your sentence calls for.

    2. As others have also said, read your work aloud. I can't emphasize this enough. This is the best way I know of to be sure your sentences flow properly. It helps you avoid excessive repetition of words, unintentional rhymes, sing-song rhythms, and so on. In short, it helps you avoid things that would trip up your reader, taking them out of the story.

    It's also instructive to read the work of other writers aloud, especially the work of really good writers.

    3. This is something I think is important, but I haven't seen anybody else mention it specifically: Do not be afraid of your own voice. Feel free to be yourself; to write like nobody else in the world. If you try too hard to write like someone else, be it Hemingway, King, Rowling, or whoever, you'll kill the essence of yourself in your work. That essence - that voice that is distinctly yours - might be the best thing about your work.
     
  24. R.P. Kraul
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    R.P. Kraul Member

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    1) Avoid nominalizations. Nominalizations weaken prose.
    2) As Vonnegut said, every character must want something. I'll add that that "something" doesn't have to relate to the story. In some cases, it's better that it doesn't.
    3) Unless you're writing a soap opera, don't give too much away in dialogue.
    4) Ignore those who tell you never to use telling, passive voice, adverbs, etc. Each of those things has its place.
    5) Find a critique partner who enjoys your style and whose style you enjoy. Genre--it's far less important than style.
     
  25. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    That got trumped for me when Harry laughed intelligently.
     

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