Monday, April 20, 2009

Four ways to put variety in your writing.

This will take you back to 8th grade English class. Are you ready?

You can put variety in your writing by mixing the four types of sentences. What are those four types of sentences?

1. Simple
2. Compound
3. Complex
4. Compound-Complex

What do those terms mean? A simple sentence contains one independent clause (a group of words with a subject and predicate that can stand alone). For example, "The woman drove to the store and bought some groceries." This is a simple sentence even though it has two verbs (drove and bought).

A compound version of that sentence might read, "The woman drove to the store and bought some groceries, and her daughter waited in the car." Compound sentences consist of two or more independent clauses that are typically joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, while, yet). Lost yet? I hope not.

A complex sentence contains one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses (groups of words with subjects and verbs that can not stand alone). The complex sentence looks like this, "The woman drove to the store and bought some groceries while her daughter waited in the car." What group of words cannot stand on its own? "...while her daughter waited in the car" That's the dependent clause.

A compound-complex sentence combines the two types of sentences I have just discussed. A sample might look like this: "The husband stayed at home, and the woman drove to the store and bought some groceries while her daughter waited in the car."

What's the point of this time warp back to 8th grade? I will show you. I will show you that when you mix these four types of sentences you create variety in your writing. That variety leads to freshness, and that freshness keeps your readers interested while your writing avoids becoming stale.

For instance, read the following paragraph and notice how I mixed the four types of sentences. Also, note how the use of simple sentences in the first 13 sentences makes the writing boring.

"I told you. Vary your sentences. Use short sentences. Use long sentences. Write one word. Write ten words. Write fifty words. Or, bore me. Just like this. With short sentences. One after another. Three word sentences. One following another.

The reader has other choices, you know. He or she can pick up a magazine, a newspaper, a CD liner, a product label, anything that has words on it, and read it, instead of your memo.

If you lose the reader, you will not communicate. You will just make noise – blah, blah, blah. If you want to keep the reader, if you want to connect, if you want to cause action, vary your sentences. Write a complex sentence that begins with three subordinate clauses (just like the previous sentence). Or, on the other hand, begin your simple sentence with a conjunction and a prepositional phrase – just like this sentence. Simple, compound, complex, compound-complex – it’s your choice.

Whatever you chose, take the reader on a journey. Stop. On a dime. Take a leisurely walk; over the hills and down the valleys of your writing. Or, run, skip, hop, jump. Then, stop for a deserved rest. Yes, here. Wait. Just for a moment to catch your breath.

Now, get your second wind. Hurry along with the words gathering behind you before they cascade over your shoulder. (Yes, throw in an image that the reader can see.) Then, slow down again. Stop. Write again. Use three words. Write four word sentences. Keep the reader guessing; keep the reader interested.

Get along now; time to go home. Pick up some speed; go for the Big One; use a semicolon and join three independent clauses (a compound sentence). Don’t worry. Your readers will follow you, especially when you have used the right tools, such as action verbs, active voice, and characters as subjects in logical prose that uses well chosen words placed within well crafted sentences that create coherent and seamless paragraphs."

Well, now that you have re-visited 8th grade, don't you wish you could do it over again?! (If I only knew then what I know now!)

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