1. Justin Attas

    Justin Attas Active Member

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    Sentence Structure Variation

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Justin Attas, Jul 4, 2019.

    How often do you guys consciously switch up your sentence structures? Do you mind this while writing the first draft, or when revising? I tend to do a bit of both. I also tend to stay mostly on the short side of things, peppering in longer sentences every so often. What about you guys?
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Constantly. A sentence is unlikely to exist for more than twenty minutes before I start thinking of its structure in comparison with nearby sentences.
     
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  3. RobinLC

    RobinLC Active Member

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    I tend to write as I speak and then go back to edit later. I don't change a whole lot though. Mostly I correct grammar and may choose a few different word choices for a more concise sentence.
     
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  4. Justin Attas

    Justin Attas Active Member

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    I do the same thing! I edit tremendously as I write... then again later lol.
     
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  5. Gary Wed

    Gary Wed Active Member

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    Basically never. Repetitive sentence structure is almost always the result of not writing from view.
     
  6. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    That sounds self contradictory. You say repetitive sentence structure is the result of not writing from view (whatever ‘writing from view’ means) and yet you begin your post by saying you never vary it.
     
  7. NobodySpecial

    NobodySpecial Contributor Contributor

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    So you're actually asking about sentence length, not structure as in simple, compound, complex, compound complex, left branching, right branching, periodic sentence kind of structure?
     
  8. Gary Wed

    Gary Wed Active Member

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    Yeah. Sorry to be confusing. I never apply any mental energy toward variation because it NATURALLY varies if you write directly from view. After a few sentences you are allowed to assume view because you are consistent and establish it well. Then you write to the events or happenstance in front of you. This helps a good deal toward not doing the more repetitive noun-verb openings that are so annoying. Even thoughts can go uncredited and be direct. This liberates how they open. Once you are more liberated in how you open lines, the rest naturally follows. Thus, truly being in view and comprehending the tools that approach bring to your table, allows you to no longer have to worry about repetitive sentence structures.
     
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  9. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Same.
     
  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    It's something I have to think about. It's really easy for me to get caught up in a whole bunch of short clipped sentences. I think more now about combining sentences and also the way they are structured. Variety is a good thing when it comes to how we conduct our sentences and how long they are. Doing it right can elevate a work and make it read more professional. I know this is something I continue to struggle with at times because when I sell a story I sure do put editors to work when it comes to this. But then I can also see the difference it makes in my work. I think it's a good thing to practice and be aware of.

    I'm not sure what @Gary Wed is talking about with writing "from view." Everything we write has a point of view. Sure, sticking to the POV is great, but it's never helped me with mixing up my sentence structure. I don't see how the two are related. Just because something feel natural while you're writing it doesn't mean it's coming out as the best version it can be. I don't struggle with POV, but I do have to put more thought into my sentences. It's not always so easy and natural. At least for me it's not.
     
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  11. Gary Wed

    Gary Wed Active Member

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    I know I've opened a can of worms. Not trying to be cute or anything. I just have had a lot of time not worrying about variation in sentence structure, and looking back at it I realize that it's likely because the more I write the closer I have been to working in free discourse offered by being fully in viewpoint (regardless of viewpoint choice). It's just something I have noticed.

    Let me try to give an example (though this only touches the surface). Suppose I were to write:

    Mary was having a bad day. She didn't like the car. John was being such an ass, and the car stank.

    Now, I have to ask. Are we really in view? Well sure we are. But it's like the textbook version of it. It's not really there. As a result, we end up with lots of lines starting with: Mary was or She didn't, or John was.

    The kneejerk is to say that we can just vary length or maybe combine things:

    John was being such an ass. Mary was already having a bad day, not to mention that she didn't like the car. It stank.

    Okay. Better. More in view, because she made some pretty direct statement in that narrative.

    It wasn't possible for John to be more of an ass. Chalk it up to just one more reason why the day sucked the big one, not to mention his car smelled like the back door of an outhouse. What the hell was that on the floor? Something dead, she hoped.

    So, once you move to really being in view you have more direct statements, less crediting (filtering) the viewpoint as an opener, and the whole range of sentence lengths become automatic. If you write from view, you stop caring about length or repetitiveness because it takes care of itself.
     
  12. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Sorry, @Gary Wed, but POV has nothing to do with sentence structure or variation.
     
  13. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Maybe not, but if his example above was an excerpt from a novel, I'd be reading it :D
     
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  14. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Admin Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Okay we've had the direct/indirect discussion once recently already - we do not need to have it again here
     
  15. Dr. Jerry

    Dr. Jerry New Member

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    I do both as well but more often when revising. I get a better sense of how my sentences sound and flow when reading chunks in a top to bottom manner as opposed to when I first write them down.
     
  16. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Conspicuously Conventional Contributor

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    The limitation of this advice is, many stories use a "textbook" view. I don't even have to hunt my bookshelf for an example, I can use the book I'm currently reading. The following three sentences are the beginning of Ted Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects:

    Her name is Ana Alvarado, and she's having a bad day. She spent all week preparing for a job interview, the first one in months to reach the videoconference stage, but the recruiter's face barely appeared on-screen before he told her that the company has decided to hire someone else. So she sits in front of her computer, wearing her good suit for nothing.
     
  17. Saphry

    Saphry Member

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    Hm mostly during revision or periods when I’m stuck at a scene. When I’m writing I just write as how it comes out of my head without thinking much about structure variation. I feel it’s less distracting that way.
     
  18. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    My sentence length is based on the situation my character is in at the time. If it is a fist fight, the sentences are short. If I’m on an ocean voyage, the are full of description and longer. If it is a sex scene, the sentences start out long and shorten and lengthen again or maybe that part is an illusion.
    I have checked chapters on autocrit and never had a problem.
     
  19. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    This is where reading what you've written out loud is invaluable. It's even better if you can get somebody else to read it to you, so you won't be influenced by what you think you wrote. If it sounds choppy and breathless and moves quickly, you're probably using short sentences. If choppy, breathless and quick is the effect you want in that particular part of your story, then you're winning. If it's not, then consider combining sentences in some way.

    Generally speaking, I'd say mixing sentence length and varying how the sentences are structured makes the reader less aware of your technique and more aware of the story's content. However, there will likely be moments in your story where you want to portray excitement, or want to portray calm. That's where consciously employing sentence length and structure becomes particularly effective.

    The key word there is consciously. Be aware, while editing at least, what effects you're actually creating.
     
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  20. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Is the above example from a SP book?
     
  21. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Conspicuously Conventional Contributor

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    I'm sorry, I don't know what you're asking. The example is from Exhalation, a book of his short stories.
     
  22. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    Sorry for not being clearer. By SP I meant self-published.
     
  23. hyacinthe

    hyacinthe Banned

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    I try to remember while i'm drafting. I fix a few on the next day line edit. I try to remember when I'm revising, because I know by the time I get to the last line edit stage I'm just going to be sick of it.
     
  24. Justin Attas

    Justin Attas Active Member

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    Haven't had much time to check back on the forums but DAMN! Thanks guys for all the feedback. It's always refreshing to find more like-minded and different writers. We all have our own style at least to some degree, right?
     
  25. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

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    My sentence structure tends to vary greatly in the moment. I have a myriad of problems and bad habits, so don't get me wrong when I say that flow comes pretty easily to me. It's only upon rereading that any unevenness or other unintended rhythmic issues sticks out to me, and it's usually an easy fix. (split a run-on, incorporate two or more closely related thoughts into one comprehensive sentence, etc.) The bit I truly obsess over is vocabulary. Could I be more concise or more sophisticated with my language? Conversely, am I pretentiously over-wording what could be simple and elegant or more easily understood? Switching these things around repeatedly (mostly due to paranoid self-doubt and issues with perfectionism bordering on impossible expectations) ends up restructuring things and mucking up that initial flow, at which point, finally, yes, I start to fret about structures that felt perfectly natural and fluid the first time around.

    I've finally learned that if I want to get anywhere at all, I will leave the vast majority of editing for my second pass. I still teak things in the moment, but I try to move on as quickly as I can, concentrating on forward progress. Making this change in habit required incredible discipline. I felt like an OCD sufferer attempting to ignore a compulsion involving a light switch. I initially felt almost ill leaving lines and paragraphs and entire pages in rough draft form. After pushing though that, I now find myself working on long-form prose at a much more efficient rate, with almost pro-level productivity in fact. When I return to the piece for editing, I also find it infinitely more obvious what the solution is to each individual nit I wish to pick, because I haven't been worrying myself cross-eyed with it all day. My eyes are fresh, and I can see more clearly what a reader might. I'm mostly speaking, in my case, about vocabulary and poetic flow, but the exact same applies to structure.

    If you're someone who freaks out over perfecting a line to the point that all forward momentum halts (like me,) it might be best to wait and see it with fresh eyes during the second draft phase. There are multiple benefits to this plan of attack, as I've said. If, on the other hand, you're able to edit, perfect and move on, maybe that's the path for you. There are plenty of successful writers who leave themselves almost nothing to do during the editing pass but address little plot holes and continuity errors. Several (Kurt Vonnegut comes to mind) take days or even weeks on every page and never need a second draft at all. It comes down to personal preference, work habits and self-confidence, the latter of the three being, of course, something over which most of us have limited if any control.

    (It might also be worth mentioning that these three paragraphs, which are a far cry from long-form prose, involved more time and editing that you could possibly imagine and still think me sane. :bigwink:)
     
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