Energize Your Writing With Active Sentences

An editing pet peeve of mine is reading a sentence that could have been great, but the author settled for good enough. For example:

It was very dark as Victor stepped into the street and waited.
There are four types of alcoholics.
It was there that I stayed stretched out and longing for some time.
There were dangerous people milling around Red Square.
It is possible that Hope’s capture at the undercover exchange was inevitable.
This was obviously the tastefully decorated living room of a wealthy lawyer, banker, or CEO.
There will be millions of victims if the premier refuses to take a stand.
There could have been doubt before, but that was gone now.
It was worth the wait to see Slayer’s final show.
There wasn’t enough to prove Gabriel was in imminent danger.
There will be more suffering and death unless someone steps in to fund the program.

Nothing is grammatically wrong, but can you feel the weakness of each sentence? No? Compare it to an improved version.

Victor stepped into the dark street and waited.
I remained stretched out and longing for some time.
Four types of alcoholics exist.
Dangerous people milled about Red Square.
Hope’s capture at the undercover exchange was inevitable.
Obviously, a wealthy lawyer, banker, or CEO lived in the tastefully decorated living room.
If the premier refuses to take a stand, millions of victims may pay the ultimate price.
Any doubt had disappeared.
Slayer’s final show was well-worth the wait.
Gabriel was never in imminent danger.
Suffering and death will continue until someone steps in to fund the program.

See what I mean?

By placing the important information toward the end of the sentence, the author robbed the prose of energy.

Also, these beginnings are so vague and nebulous that you risk leaving your readers scratching their heads, doing the mental “huh?”

Expletive construction is fine during your first-draft effort.* Whatever it takes to get ideas out of your head and into the world. But once you type “The End,” engage your search function and look for these bad boys:

It isIt will have beenThere isThere wasThere will be
It wasIt could have beenThere areThere wereThere could have been

When you find one, experiment with the sentence it contains to make a strong string of prose. Sometimes the fix is as easy as deleting the expletive and the relative pronoun that.

It was Jacob’s last statement that finally piqued Ann’s interest.
Jacob’s last statement that finally piqued Ann’s interest.

Other times, eliminate the expletive and that before beginning the sentence with the subject.

There are thousands of people across the globe that could launch nuclear war.
Thousands of people across the globe could launch nuclear war.

Often, after performing either fix, you can add intensity to the sentence by pumping up the verb and tightening the prose.

There were more than ten dozen roses in Alexandra’s office.
Over ten dozen roses blanketed Alexandra’s office.

“But, Annie, I just read a NYT bestseller author’s latest novel, and he starts a lot of his sentences like that. Why can’t I?”

He’s earned his writing chops. When you hit the bestseller lists with your books, you can start a lot of your sentences like that, too. Until then, let’s write energetically, shall we?

Write on!

 

*Expletive construction is acceptable in dialogue because most people speak that way.

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