5 Ways to Kill A Sentence

“Great story, but I had a hard time reading it.” “Incredible concept, but your writing didn’t jump off the page.” “A compelling plot, but the style throughout was flat.” But… but… but…

Tired of hearing this about your novel? Maybe you’re guilty of a sentence crime.

It happens every day in some part of the world, a poor, defenseless sentence becomes the unwilling victim of a homicide. Hit and run. Voluntary manslaughter. Murder.

The saddest thing? Often times the killer is unaware a crime has been committed and continues about his or her fiction writing, unable to stop committing the crime again, again, and again.

Here are the top five:

Write a Weak Sentence

A writer afraid to commit to the writing, unwilling to take a risk with his/her thoughts and prose, kills a sentence by decorating a wimpy verb. Instead of a stronger one to suit the character’s intended action, the killer simply places an intensifier like very, so, suddenly, or extremely in front of the wimpy verb. The result? A weaken sentence impact. Life is literally sucked from the prose.

Major Green opened the door very fast.
vs.
Major Green flung open the door.

 

Write a Boring Sentence

A writer who writes with only personal pleasure in mind kills the sentence by downplaying action. Instead of grabbing hold of the prose and committing to strong, aggressive writing, the killer’s passive approach bleeds onto the page as passive voice. The result? An awkward, wordy, and generally vague sentence.

Tragically, hundreds of lives were lost when the mountain was hit by the plane.
vs.
Tragically, hundreds of people died when the plane slammed into the mountain.

 

Write a Formal Sentence

A writer who tries to impress everyone with intellect and/or who hopes to intrigue a reader so much it sweeps him/her into the story kills a sentence by being a classic-literature wannabe. Instead of trusting his/her personal writing style and voice, the killer tries channeling—and fails miserably—classic literature giants. The result? A sentence that’s comical (probably not the writer’s intention). (Thanks to our buddy at www.necronomi.com for this example.)

Her pansy cheeks blushed a deeper shade of rose as I spoke to her, and she cast down her violet eyes and covered her soft, petal-pink lips with a slender, lily-like hand—she was a natural wallflower, after all, and green at the art of flirtation.
vs.
Cheeks blushed, she lowered violet eyes and covered tender lips with her delicate hand. She was a beautiful wallflower, unskilled in flirtation.

 

Write an Overweight Sentence

A writer who rushes thoughts and/or beats around the bush because he/she is unsure where the story needs to go kills a sentence by creating a long, boring string of words. Instead of writing so readers can experience a scene emotionally, the killer uses long, flat descriptions. The result? A sentence that readers often skip because it looks too much like a grocery list.

Paul wore a green and red plaid threadbare shirt with a missing button at the cuff and a pair of frayed black jeans torn below the knee.
vs.
Paul wore Goodwill rejects.

(This could be the first time Paul shows up in the novel. That’s when most grocery-list descriptions occur.)
 

Write an Unclear Sentence

A writer indifferent to the reader and lack passion for his/her story and/or words kills a sentence by forgetting transitions. Instead of keeping the reader moving from one idea to the next, the killer drones on, assuming the reader will figure it out. The result? A sentence that leaves the reader clueless regarding time and plot flow. (This occurs often in a synopsis, back-cover copy, and/or book blurb.)

Gerald discovers Ramona is the power behind Mountain Watch, the environmental activist group protesting Emerald Point. He tries to get to know her. He devises a strategy to overcome her opposition. Gerald believes they’ve reached a compromise professionally and romantically. Ramona ups the ante. She publicly accuses him of killing his wife. To dispute the charges, he’s forced to dig into the death. He uncovers it wasn’t an accident. It was murder.
vs.
Gerald soon discovers Ramona is the power behind Mountain Watch, the environmental activist group protesting Emerald Point. He tries to get to know her in hopes of devising a strategy to overcome her opposition. Just when Gerald believes they’ve reached a compromise professionally as well as romantically, Ramona ups the ante and publicly accuses him of killing his wife. To dispute the charges, he’s forced to dig into the death and soon uncovers it wasn’t an accident. It was murder.

Stop the cycle of violence. Each and every sentence deserves to live to tell a tale. Only you can prevent this senseless crime. Won’t you… please?

Write on!

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