Sentence Structure

Sentence Structure

Yesterday we discussed paragraph structure and how important it is to the flow and rhythm of your story. Just as important is sentence structure. This is really getting down to the finer details of your novel, and how it will help create a logical and easy to read story that flows well and draws your reader in.

The most effective way to keep your readers’ attention is to make your writing concise and easy to understand, no matter how elaborate the ideas are that you are trying to convey.  By structuring your sentences appropriately and using correct punctuation and grammar you achieve simple and effective writing. In this particular post we will focus on sentence structure. At a later date I will write some posts on grammar and punctuation. Once again, I found a post by Lucy Mccarraher “How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: sentence structure and punctuation” a great read, that helps to clarify sentence structure.

Back to Basics.

A sentence can be long or short and it generally has 3 fundamental components.

  • It must start with a capital letter.
  • It has to end with a full stop or other conclusive punctuation, and
  • It contains a subject and a verb.

Types of Sentences.

There are four different types of sentences. See this article on “Sentence Structure” by Elizabeth O’Brien (Grammar Revolution: Grammar the Easy Way) for more in depth explanations that are easy to read and understand on the different types of sentences.

  • Imperative sentences: exclamations, commands and requests. These sentences are the only ones where the subject and verb rule is exempt.
  • Simple sentences: A simple sentence contains only one independent clause. An independent clause is a group of words that expresses a complete thought, with a subject and a verb. For example: I ate chocolate. I is the subject, ate is the verb and it expresses a complete thought. These are ideal for quick action scenes with punchy statements and brisk dialogue.
  • Compound sentences: are where a conjunction joins two related simple sentences together. Conjunctions are “joining words” such as: and, or, but, because. This type of sentence contains at least two independent clauses. For example: She danced and he drank.
  • Complex sentences: these sentences are made up of a dependent clause and a main clause. The main clause can stand-alone. However, dependent clauses will turn into fragments if on their own. For example: I washed the dishes after I cooked dinner. I washed the dishes is the main clause as it is a complete sentence when by itself. After I cooked dinner is a dependent clause as it is not a complete sentence if standing alone.

Then it really gets interesting as you can combine the four main sentence types to create other sentences, like a compound-complex sentence. A compound-complex sentence contains at least two independent clauses, and at least one dependent clause.

Sentence Syntax.

The sentence syntax is essentially sentence structure. It is the way you put your words, grammar and punctuation together to create interesting and easy to read sentences. It is usually broken down into three syntactic slots.

Untitled
Molly (subject) drank (verb) wine (object).

A good rule of thumb is that you can load one or two of these slots with detail, but not all three. If you load all three slots then the sentence becomes harder to read and will slow your reader down. For example:

Filling up one slot:                                                                                                            Molly, drank a bottle of her favourite red wine.

Filling up two slots:
Molly, drank long and deep from a bottle of her favourite red wine.                                                                                                         

Filling up all three slots:                                                                                                  Molly, lonely and single once more, drank long and deep from a bottle of her favourite red wine.

So remember, simplicity is key. Your reader doesn’t want to get bogged down in lengthy and overly detailed sentences. Keep the story moving forward by writing concise but descriptive sentences and adhering to the rules of sentence structure.

That brings us to the conclusion of the Building Your Novel Blog Series. You should now have a more in depth understanding of plotting, story structure, the dramatic elements, paragraph structure and sentence structure. I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. Please feel free to send me an email, comment if you have any questions, or wish to add anything else to these posts.