Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fiction Writers, Readers, Students - Consider The Sentence

Fiction Writers – Go Forth And Fiction
The joy of the sentence.

Fiction writing is a tricky business. Really.

And, there are times when things get so darn tangled up that we need to go back to the basics so our readers aren’t lost in that tangle wondering what the heck is going on.

So today I’m going to talk about some real basic stuff. Let’s start with the sentence. You can go a couple of different directions when writing a sentence. You can go positive or negative.  You want to be clear and concise so it’s usually best to go with the positive.

For example:

He did not remember where he put the damn car keys.
He forgot where he put the damn keys!

Which is plainer and which is more engaging?  Read your work carefully and try not to go down the path in which you use so many negatives that you twist things up good and the reader loses track of where you’re going.

Think about the rhythm of your sentences and what you’re trying to convey.  You can write in short, staccato bursts, flowery and lengthy or flowing and succinct. There’s a lot of variety in how sentences can be put together, their length. Short, staccato sentences could relate to tense drama, or the boredom of a character or other artistic purpose. Ponder this,  Hemingway who was known for his plain, simple sentences won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.  But there’s another side of the scale. William Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in 1954 and his sentences were pretty much opposite of Hemingway. Read a few passages of both and see what I mean.

And since we’re still talking about the basic sentence let’s think about  pacing and sentence length. What does a long sentence do to you as a reader?  Yep, it impacts the pace of the story. When the writer is producing longer sentences it slows the story down, gives the reader a breather. That’s needed in any kind of story.

However, it is possible to go to far and bore the reader to the point of giving up and putting the book aside. So, shorter sentences suggest a faster pace.  They’re also great when you want to snap a point across and keep those eyeballs glued to your page. Think about the characters you create as well. Some characters might speak in longer, flowing sentences, others utter grunts and single syllables.

Then there’s the active and passive voice. Which to use? Generally the active is better and more forceful.  Here, take a look.

The car was hit by a truck running the red light.
The truck ran a red light and hit the car.

Okay, both sentences need more ‘color’ but at the bare bones, in the second sentence  delivers more power and puts the emphasis on the truck.  Personally I go with more of the active voice.

It may seem odd before you really give it some thought, but even the order of the words in the sentence can have an impact on the writing.  You might say something like “Sam wasn’t really thinking of taking a walk.” Or you could turn things around a bit and let Sam do the talking. Something like “A walk? I wasn’t really thinking of taking a walk just now.” Or you could just turn the sentence around without Sam doing any talking to say something like, “Taking a walk just then wasn’t high on Sam’s To-Do list.”

Of course writing is much more than just sentences. The writer must think in terms of paragraphs, chapters and the story. But, if you get the hang of sentences you’re half way home. 

How's your writing/reading/composition coming along? Drop a comment below now. 

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