“Sentence Structure” does not mean “20 to Life,” but it does mean …

Sentence Structure

by

Mary Deal

We’re all told that when we write to simply let the words flow uncensored. Never mind punctuation and sentence structure, just get the words and ideas out. This method works for me and many other people. Still others plan out their sentences in their minds before writing or they edit each sentence written before going on to the next. With any way you choose to write, you will find yourself editing your sentences to make them grammatically correct and to fit the pace of your story.

In order to write the correct sentence for the “moment” of that part of the story, a writer must understand the differences between simple, compound and complex sentences. When I talk about a particular “moment” in a story, a writer needs to know how to use those sentences to pick up the pace of the action or slow it down. Sentences can make a reader breathless and keep turning pages, or they can cause the reader to read more slowly in order to understand a more difficult passage.

Simple Sentences

These are also known as independent clauses and are short and to the point. When we first learned to read, we read sentences that, to an adult, seemed more like bits and pieces. “Jack ran away.” “The ball rolled away.”

As we advanced in our reading skills, sentences became longer, though probably remained simple: “See where the ball rolled into the pasture.”

Simple sentences need to be paced, that is, interspersed among compound and complex sentences.  Simple sentences can have a staccato effect between absorbing the action and meaning of a story.

A simple sentence contains a subject and a verb. Simply, a person or thing and the action they perform. Use simple sentences to quicken the action. However, too many short sentences, one after another, can make your story seem juvenile.

Compound Sentences

Compound sentences contain two independent clauses which are joined by:

for – a preposition

and, but, or – conjunctions

so, yet – adverbs

nor – a conjunction and an adverb

A comma always precedes the word that conjoins the two independent clauses making them a compound sentence.

An example:

~ I went to the store, and my friend went to the Post Office.

Complex Sentences

Where a compound sentence contains two independent clauses, a complex sentence has an independent clause joined by one or more dependent clauses. A dependent clause completes the action, but cannot stand alone as a whole and complete sentence.

A complex sentence always uses one of these words to join the two parts of the sentence: after, when, although, because, since, or the pronouns who, whom, which, that, they.

When a sentence begins with any of the words from the first group, a comma is inserted at the end of the dependent clause before the sentence finishes. Note this example:

~ After Rita helped me with the dishes, she and her boyfriend went out.

When one of the connecting pronouns is used, no comma is included. Example:

~ Rita and her boyfriend went out after they helped me with the dishes.

It is advisable to study the choice of words used to connect parts of a sentence. In some cases, the insertion of the wrong word can change what you imply with the sentence.

Short sentences can quicken the pace of the story for the reader. Longer sentences can slow down the pace and offer a lot more information. It is important that you have a balance of each as you write.

Please visit Mary Deal’s website for more wonderful articles like this one: Write Any Genre.

About Mike Angley

Mike Angley is the award-winning author of the Child Finder Trilogy. He retired as a Colonel from the Air Force in 2007 following a 25-year career as a Special Agent with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI). He held 13 different assignments throughout the world, among which were five tours as a Commander of various units, to include two Air Force Squadrons and a Wing. He is a seasoned criminal investigator and a counterintelligence and counterterrorism specialist. In his last assignment, he was Commander of OSI Region 8 with responsibility for all of Air Force Space Command. He’s fond of saying, “If it entered or exited Earth’s atmosphere, I had a dog in the fight!”
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