Monday, April 11, 2016

Buzz Words and Repetitive Sentence Structure

Lots of phrases, buzzwords, slang, jargon, and perfectly cromulent words are thrown about critique groups on a regular basis. Newcomers to critique groups can mentally stumble when they hear something along the lines of, "The POV in your WIP head hops through white room syndrome, and all of the narrative is written in passive voice with lots of tense shifts."

POV? WIP? White rooms? Is there padding on the walls of these white rooms? I feel like I'm going insane! I know I'm tense, but how is that shifting around?



Well, have no fear. I'm here to help expand your vocabulary into the writerly world of the critique group.

This month, I'm going to cover repetitive sentence structure.

Repetitive Sentence Structure

The way you put words together to tell your story creates a rhythm to the way the reader feels the words impact them. Using different types of sentence structure is a subtle way to control your readers' reactions to the way you tell the story. It also can reveal a great deal about the point of view character.

If you stick with the same sentence structures, the reader will almost fall into a hypnotic pattern. Their reaction will be along the lines of, "This is a good story, but I'm bored." They won't be able to put their finger on it, but do we want the emotional reaction to our stories to be "bored?" Probably not. I hope not!

A talented critique partner, beta reader, or editor will be able to spot these rhythmic patterns. A really good critique partner will not rewrite your words for you. They'll simply point out the patterns you've fallen into and let you run with the fixes.

To help you identify your own patterns, look for lots of the following clustered together:

·       Opening with a prepositional phrase
·       Compound sentences
·       Short, choppy sentences
·       Long, expository sentences
·       Sentences with the same number of words/syllables

I'm not saying any one of these is a bad thing. They're actually good things! However, when clustered in a dense group, it can throw off the reader.

As a side tip that goes along with these, you can control the rate at which someone reads by varying your sentence structure.

When I describe a new environment my character is experiencing, I tend to use longer sentences. This forces the reader to slow down to process the expanded descriptions. This gives the impression that the character is studying the area as much as the reader. It naturally slows the pace of the story.

When I get into a high action scene, I intentionally drop to shorter, to-the-point sentences. These are easy to process for the reader. Therefore, the fight scene or verbal argument or dangerous situation reads fast. This fast-paced reading imposes onto the reader the sense that the action is fast as well.

These are cheats where you are "hacking your readers' brains," but they work so well.
I don't have any mathematical or proscribed ritual to changing things up. There's no set pattern of "long-long-short-long" or "short-long-long-short" to keep a steady rhythm to the reading experience.

This isn't Morse code, after all. This is an art. It has a flow, a style, a heartbeat of its own. Find your beat, change it up, and get your readers to dance to it!

If you've heard a phrase or word in a critique group and you think others should know about it (or you're not sure what to think of it), drop me a comment below, and I'll add it to my list of Buzz Words to talk about.

About the Author: J.T. Evans writes fantasy novels. He also dabbles with science fiction and horror short stories. He is the president of Pikes Peak Writers. When not writing, he secures computers at the Day Job, homebrews great beers, spends time with his family, and plays way too many card/board/role-playing games.