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Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby glorybee » Mon Sep 23, 2013 1:30 am

Good writers of either fiction or nonfiction must master writing sentences of various structures and lengths. This lesson is the first in a series covering different types of sentences, and how each of them may be used for maximum effectiveness.

I'm going to be using a few grammatical terms during this series--more in the following weeks than this week. Hang in there with me, and if anything needs clarification, feel free to ask. The terms I use may be different from the ones you learned in high school, so I'll give definitions and examples when I think it's necessary.

Simple sentence

At its most basic, a simple sentence consists of a noun and a verb.

Cats purr.

Additional words can be added to modify the noun or the verb (or both).

My three cats purr.
My three cats purr loudly.
My three calico cats always purr loudly.


Simple sentences can also become more complicated when they contain things like direct objects and indirect objects. Those are beyond the scope of this lesson, but here is an example:

I gave my calico cats three balls of red yarn.

Hold on to your hats--this lesson was the easy one. More grammar terms to come in the lessons to follow.

Short and simple sentences can serve any number of functions in your writing.

1. They may increase the pace. You could use a string of short sentences, for example, to describe the quickening heartbeat and breathing of a character who is being pursued.

2. Interestingly, a short sentence may also bring the reader to a sudden stop. You may have used several long sentences to describe a beautiful setting, then a short sentence like In the clearing stood a filthy hovel to make the readers stop, take inventory of the setting, and think about the sudden shift of their expectations.

3. A short sentence may be the kicker or the punch line to a longer story or anecdote, or the lesson that you want your readers to grasp. Similarly, if there's some significant bit of wisdom that you want your reader to glean from your nonfiction, make it memorable and short.

4. A short sentence may help to establish your narrator's voice. If your narrator is a child, or inarticulate for reason of disability or foreign-ness or some other circumstance, he or she will probably use shorter sentences.

5. You may choose short sentences to be part of your own writer's voice--your writing style. One of America's most famous writers, Ernest Hemingway, was known for using short, simple sentences. Here's a passage from Hemingway:

A doctor came in followed by a nurse. He held something in his two hands that looked like a freshly skinned rabbit and hurried across the corridor with it and in through another door. I went down to the door her had gone into and found them in the room doing things to a new-born child. The doctor held him up for me to see. He held him by the heels and slapped him.

"Is he all right?"

"He's magnificent. He'll weigh five kilos."

I had no feeling for him. He did not seem to have anything to do with me. I felt nothing of fatherhood.

"Aren't you proud of your son?" the nurse asked. They were washing him and wrapping him in something. I saw the little dark face and dark hand, but I did not see him move or hear him cry. The doctor was doing something to him again. He looked upset.

"No," I said. "He nearly killed his mother."


The average sentence length in this passage is nine words, and there are only four sentences with more than ten words. This style worked for Hemingway, of course, because he was a master wordsmith--if you write entirely in short, simple sentences, you must be sure that your writing does not come across as childish.

This NY Times column discusses more of the virtues of short sentences, for those of you who want to read further.

Finally, my purpose here (and in the next few weeks) is to get you to think about the types of sentences you use, and to use different sentence lengths and types intentionally to help you to communicate your message. When we're just beginning to write, many of us just put words on paper without thinking about how to do it the most effectively. Having a variety of sentence types in your repertoire is one way that you can improve your writing.

HOMEWORK: Choose a piece of your own writing that you like a lot, because you'll be analyzing it and picking it apart for a few weeks. The length doesn't matter, but the longer it is, the more work it will be for you. A Writing Challenge entry of about 750 words would be just about right.

1. Count the number of sentences in your piece.
2. Count how many of those sentences are simple sentences, according to the definition and examples I've provided.

That's all for this week--we'll do the deeper analysis in the weeks to come. However, if you wish, you could do one or more of these options:

3. Share 1 or 2 of the short sentences from your selection here, and tell why you think they're effective.
4. Comment on this lesson, or add something that I may have left out.
5. Just for fun, write 1 new sentence, just for this exercise, of less than 10 words--make it say something fresh, original, and pithy.
5. Ask me a question.

Thanks to Steve Fitschen, who helped me with the grammar-y parts of this lesson!
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby choosingjoy » Mon Sep 23, 2013 12:37 pm

This sounds like a wonderful learning lesson. I hope to get one of my pieces and do the first homework you suggested. Got a lot going on, so it will take a few days, I'm sure. I loved the Hemingway example.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby swfdoc1 » Mon Sep 23, 2013 1:19 pm

I love "Be a Better Writer," but now that I see it here, I have two thoughts. A lot of folks refer new members and people seeking help to "Jan's classes." I wonder whether you should use "Jan's 'Be a Better Writer.'" Also, I was wondering whether "Be a Better Writer" (or "Jan's 'Be a Better Writer'") should replace "Jan's Writing Basics," instead of just showing up under that topic?
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby glorybee » Mon Sep 23, 2013 1:47 pm

Steve, I think I'll keep it the way it is for now. My name is on the main page (and that's embarrassing enough), and people who are referred to "Jan's classes" should be able to find it that way. "Jan's 'Be a Better Writer'" strikes me as cumbersome and kind of me-ish.

If I get time this week, I may go through levels 1, 2, and 3 of the last writing challenge and leave links to this forum in comments. *shrugs*
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby swfdoc1 » Mon Sep 23, 2013 5:44 pm

OK--I was just thinking about the "Writing Basics" not being good for business from more advanced members.
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"When the Round Table is broken every man must follow Galahad or Mordred; middle
things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby Come forth » Mon Sep 23, 2013 6:00 pm

Jan, don't just do levels 1, 2 & 3. I'm in Masters but am far from a Master. I still love these lessons and gain from them.

My sentence: "Splattered tomato covered her face." (BTW -- it was a FRESH tomato :lol: )

I fit into the category that you describe as 'just writing' without knowing or analyzing what and why. These lessons will be a great help for me.

Thanks, Graham.
May we all get eyes to see and ears to hear,
A Revelation of His Word, crystal clear.
Admitting our need to be drawn in,
Less of self, more of Him.

My prayer for us all.
God bless us with the Revelation of His Word, Graham
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby glorybee » Mon Sep 23, 2013 7:34 pm

Come forth wrote:Jan, don't just do levels 1, 2 & 3. I'm in Masters but am far from a Master. I still love these lessons and gain from them.

My sentence: "Splattered tomato covered her face." (BTW -- it was a FRESH tomato :lol: )

I fit into the category that you describe as 'just writing' without knowing or analyzing what and why. These lessons will be a great help for me.

Thanks, Graham.


I guess I just figured that those in Masters already know about the forums. I may do as you suggested...it just feels pushy to me. I'm shy.

Love your short sentence--now I'd love to read it with some context!
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby judi » Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:17 pm

Snuffy, my insane long-legged spotted dog is a "Psychotic Parson's Russell Terrorist." :eyes

A brief nod to "Spot, a Dog." :coolsign


Thanks for the invite Jan! Looks like fun . . . :thankssign
Last edited by judi on Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
KJV Revelation 14:12
KJV Hebrews 10:26-31

BUCKETS OF RED INK WELCOME, THANKS!

Congratulations to all who not only win acclaim for your incredibly beautiful entries, but also to all contributing who feel His Holy Spirit move within us as we write to honor Him - all these wondrous heartbeats of praise to YHWH! I love you all.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby glorybee » Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:25 pm

judi wrote:Snuffy, my insane long-legged spotted dog is a "Psychotic Parson's Terrorist.

A brief nod to "Spot, a Dog."




Fun sentence, Judi--but it's eleven words. I bet you can trim it to less than ten, for even more impact.

Welcome to the class!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby judi » Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:55 pm

judi wrote:Snuffy, my insane long-legged spotted dog is a "Psychotic Parson's Russell Terrorist." :eyes

A brief nod to "Spot, a Dog." :coolsign


Thanks for the invite Jan! Looks like fun . . . :thankssign



Snuffy, our "psychotic Parson's Russell terrorist" is adorable." :thankssign Jan!
KJV Revelation 14:12
KJV Hebrews 10:26-31

BUCKETS OF RED INK WELCOME, THANKS!

Congratulations to all who not only win acclaim for your incredibly beautiful entries, but also to all contributing who feel His Holy Spirit move within us as we write to honor Him - all these wondrous heartbeats of praise to YHWH! I love you all.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby judi » Mon Sep 23, 2013 9:58 pm

judi wrote:Snuffy, my insane long-legged spotted dog is a "Psychotic Parson's Russell Terrorist." :eyes

A brief nod to "Spot, a Dog." :coolsign


Thanks for the invite Jan! Looks like fun . . . :thankssign


Snuffy, my "psychotic Parson's Russell Terrorist" adores me.
KJV Revelation 14:12
KJV Hebrews 10:26-31

BUCKETS OF RED INK WELCOME, THANKS!

Congratulations to all who not only win acclaim for your incredibly beautiful entries, but also to all contributing who feel His Holy Spirit move within us as we write to honor Him - all these wondrous heartbeats of praise to YHWH! I love you all.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby glorybee » Mon Sep 23, 2013 10:18 pm

There you go.

I hope you also do the other part of the homework (finding a piece of your writing, counting simple sentences) and save it for the coming weeks. I post a new lesson most Monday mornings (but it will be Tuesday next week).
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby JayDavidKing » Mon Sep 23, 2013 10:20 pm

Jan, those in Masters do still need help. I know... I is one. :roll:

For the assignment, I chose a story that got several comments about its well written, effective style. The reason I picked this one is simple... for having so many comments about how good it was, it didn't get any notice at all from the judges. I just wanted to see if I could learn in this lesson what may have held it back from placing. Does that sound like I'm in it to win it? I'm not. I just want to be a better writer. This will help.

The story is called "It Would Have Been Enough" and it is found at http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=20540

It has 76 sentences and only a handful are short simple sentences.

My favorite sentence in this piece is Tears refused to fall but only because fear had built a dam to hold them back. For this lesson I rewrote this same sentence: The dam fear had built kept her tears from flowing.

Jan, I really... REALLY hope I can figure out some weaknesses in my writing through your class.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby judi » Tue Sep 24, 2013 1:08 am

What a workout! I chose "Not So Extra", honoring my Hungarian Gram. A few sentences lacked appropriate sentence structure, as you will note. I used short sentences to dramatically twirl around the oh-so-long sentences that I love to toy with. This article suffers under the weight of 750 words, 65 sentences and 29 short to almost nonexistent sentences.

I would love to think she inspired me to Godly living.

No.

Gram was a kleptomaniac.

Not so extra.
:superhappy

I chose these sentences to characterize Gram with her own words . . . :coolsign
KJV Revelation 14:12
KJV Hebrews 10:26-31

BUCKETS OF RED INK WELCOME, THANKS!

Congratulations to all who not only win acclaim for your incredibly beautiful entries, but also to all contributing who feel His Holy Spirit move within us as we write to honor Him - all these wondrous heartbeats of praise to YHWH! I love you all.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--SIMPLE SENTENCES

Postby glorybee » Tue Sep 24, 2013 9:11 am

JayDavidKing wrote:For the assignment, I chose a story that got several comments about its well written, effective style. The reason I picked this one is simple... for having so many comments about how good it was, it didn't get any notice at all from the judges. I just wanted to see if I could learn in this lesson what may have held it back from placing. Does that sound like I'm in it to win it? I'm not. I just want to be a better writer. This will help.

The story is called "It Would Have Been Enough" and it is found at http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=20540

It has 76 sentences and only a handful are short simple sentences.

My favorite sentence in this piece is Tears refused to fall but only because fear had built a dam to hold them back. For this lesson I rewrote this same sentence: The dam fear had built kept her tears from flowing.



Jay, thanks for joining in! After the series on sentence variations, I'll do some lessons that get more into the art of writing--hope you stick around for those!

In the sentence that you just showed us, I actually prefer the longer version, although I might have slightly rewritten it: Tears refused to fall; fear had built a dam to hold them back. When you switched it around, I couldn't keep my mind from reading the first three words ("The dam fear...") as a mild curse. That can be avoided by use of the word 'that' ("The dam that fear had built..."), but I think it's still weaker than the first sentence.

At any rate, it's a great concept, one that I've experienced myself. Well done!
Jan Ackerson

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