Saturday, 30 April 2011

Said versus dialogue tags

Dialogue tags let your reader know who is speaking; they are a way of giving clarity to your dialogue, especially when you have several characters talking within a scene.  
The tags are not essential in every line of speech – especially when you have only a couple of characters talking, but you can use them occasionally just to remind your reader who is speaking.

The argument of said versus other dialogue tags has rumbled on for eons.  The one thing I have found with fiction writing is that some things are good in moderation, and constructing fiction is always subjective, so it is entirely up to the writer what he or she wants to use. 


The most overused tag is ‘said’.  You might think there is good reason for that, after all, we’re taught this in English classes from an early age.  Its use, however, can sometimes grate on the nerves if you have nothing else in terms of dialogue tags to give to the reader. Despite many teachers and editors advising to do away with too many dialogue tags, they do actually have their uses, in moderation.  To explain why, here’s a typical example of a scene with dialogue:

‘So you’re coming to the barbecue tonight...’ she said, facing him.
‘Hopefully,’ he said.
She nodded. ‘We’re going about six.’
He smiled.  ‘Great, I’ll be there between six and half past.’
‘Look forward to it,’ she said.
‘I’ll bring a few bottles of wine,’ he said.
‘Great,’ she said.

He said, she said...pages and pages of this kind of writing can be such hard work to read and a little boring.  The use of ‘said’ is very useful, and it does have its place, but the drawback it is that it is also limited in range.  Said says nothing about how the character his speaking, not unless you litter each line with description.

Use of dialogue tags are useful, but you should limit their use and how you use them - they should serve only to break up the catatonic-inducing amount of ‘said’ that could creep into your dialogue.  The odd tag here and there can show how the character is talking.  How do you infer fear, sensuality, anger or any other emotion, or indeed the tone of the words, without actually smacking the reader over the head with lots of ‘telling’?

‘Said’ tells us, but it doesn’t show us.

The argument here is that descriptive tags are not necessary because it will be obvious how the characters are talking.  That is true with some of them, but are some of them really that obvious?  Take a look at this typical example:

'I don’t love you,' she said.

If you don’t tell the reader how she is saying it, they will not understand the nuance of the emotion you wish to convey, particularly in an important scene.  You can put a snippet of description prior to the dialogue, like this:

Her face darkened, creased. ‘I don’t love you.’

That gives the reader more to work with - they will see she is unhappy because of the creased, darkened face.  What they won’t hear is the tone of her voice.

Her face darkened and creased as she spat, ‘I don’t love you.’

There is clear a descriptive path, and the tone of the voice supports the emotional punch of the dialogue because of the spitting of her words.  In this sense, dialogue isn’t always obvious, not unless you inform your reader the tone of voice your character is using.

Where possible, show your character’s actions prior to dialogue, as this will cut down the need for overloading the dialogue with ‘said’ tags, like this:

He placed his arm around her and whispered, ‘You look beautiful.’

Now the reader has something to work with.  We know the whispered tone invites sensuality.  You could, of course, do away with tags altogether:

He placed his arm around her and dropped his voice to a whisper.  ‘You look beautiful.’

Again, to reiterate, some tags have their uses if used correctly and in moderation – like ‘whispered’ above, to break the monotony of ‘said’.  As shown, there are several ways to inform the reader of the tone – which one you use is up to you.

There are some tags that are considered dubious for direct dialogue, like: bawled, screeched, exclaimed, shouted, whimpered, enquired, demanded, queried, snapped, thundered etc.

As a rule of thumb, if you are unsure, just listen to the sound these words actually make.  Most of us can’t thunder, so this would be a really overly descriptive and unnecessary tag, but on the other hand we can ‘bawl’.  We can ‘descriptively’ snap at someone, but we can’t use it as a dialogue tag because we can’t replicate a snapping sound with our voices in normal dialogue.  We can shout because we can raise our voices, but our voices can’t ‘demand’.  Neither can our voices ‘exclaim’, but our voices can ‘whimper’.

The use of a couple of differential tags can highlight to the reader the changing tone of the scene.  As a writer it is up to you how and when you use them, or if you use them at all.  Again, it is about listening to the sound of words, understanding the tone, and seeing if it works.

If you find you have a verb which describes an expression – sneer, frown, grin etc - don't force the verb into becoming a dialogue tag, for instance: he grinned.

Instead, the expression is the action and should be placed before the dialogue:  He grinned.  ‘I will take over the world.

Using adverbs

As a writer you should look to eliminate all adverbs in dialogue.  They make the writing clunky and your story would not get a second glance from an editor.

‘I want to get out!’ she said desperately.
‘I will save you,’ he said coolly.

The way to avoid adverbs is to drop the action/description before the dialogue.  It is also a good way of cutting down on the inordinate amounts of ‘said’.

She became desperate. ‘I want to get out!’
His voice was cool.  ‘I will save you.’

There are no right and wrongs in creative fiction, only the technical elements that can help you improve. Despite the ‘said’ tag rule, pick up any novel and I guarantee it will contain tags other than said.

Think about it this way, if we kept rigidly to these ‘thou shalt use nothing but said’ rules, how would you write your novel or story without overloading it with exposition (telling and no showing) and it being repetitively boring?  Well, it’s harder than you think.

Next week:  Description and why it's important

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Common sentence errors and how to eliminate them

With an understanding of what makes good sentences, it will be easier to weed out the common errors that can creep into sentence structures. Everything from non-parallel sentences, fragments, ambiguity and hanging participles, misplaced commas and so on.

Vigilance at the editing stage should eliminate all of these. Without changing these kinds of errors, your writing will remain terrible, clunky and stilted.

Parallel sentences - In fiction writing, a parallel sentence means there is a balance of sentence structure. That means that similar words, phrases, or clauses should be the same in a list within a sentence and the way to join parallel structures is with the use of coordinating conjunctions such as "and" or "or." It probably sounds more complicated than it actually is.  The balance is lost when a mixture of gerunds (words with ‘ing’) and verb forms are put together. Take these examples:

He liked to run, to keep fit, and swimming.
He liked swimming and to keep fit.

The sentence has the verb form (to run) combined with a gerund (swimming) and causes an unbalanced sentence structure. The second sentence has the gerund first in the list, followed by the gerund. To maintain the balance, both sentences could be written as follows:

He liked to run, to keep fit, and to swim.
He liked to swim and to keep fit.

John entered the house and couldn’t get the lights to work. He edged his way into the hallway, feeling his way along the wall for the light switch.

This sentence is unbalanced because it has a gerund (feeling) placed incorrectly. This is the most common sentence structure error among new writers. It should be like this:

John entered the house and couldn’t get the lights to work. He edged his way into the hallway and felt his way along the wall for the light switch.

Correct Use of Commas - Sentences often suffer from incorrect use of or misplaced commas. The most common form is a comma splice. This occurs when two independent clauses (sentences on their own) are spliced together with a comma (unless you use a coordinating conjunction such as ‘and’, ‘or’, ‘yet’, ‘but’ etc), otherwise you can use of full stop or semicolon.

The correct way to use a comma is for it to infer a pause, by not doing so could lead to confusion for the reader.

The above sentence uses a misplaced comma to splice both clauses. You can correct them in the following way:

The correct way to use a comma is for it to infer a pause. By not doing so could lead to confusion for the reader.  Or you can use a conjunction.

The correct way to use a comma is for it to infer a pause, but by not doing so could lead to confusion for the reader.

Incorrect use of commas, or omitting them, can cause ambiguity, for instance:

When it comes to painting people vary in their abilities. (This sounds as though somebody is painting on someone's skin)

When it comes to painting, people vary in their abilities. (The correct comma placement denotes a pause and the emphasis is clear that people differ in abilities when it comes to painting)

Too Many Conjunctions - Avoid using too many conjunctions within clauses, otherwise the whole sentence structure will end up tripping your reader or confusing. You are also in danger of losing the emphasis of your sentences. The sentence below uses too many conjunctions.

The idea with conjunctions is to keep a sentence clear and concise, and to ensure that the reader understands the meaning, but too many conjunctions might confuse the reader or make them trip up because they end up reading a really long sentence that seems to go on forever, when in fact there could be many stand alone sentences within the whole paragraph, and that would make the sentence much better.

Sentence fragments - Avoid the use of too many sentence fragments. That don’t quite follow on or make sense. Like this. Fragmented.

Sentence fragments can mean your writing is stilted and needs fixing. You should be looking for whole and complete sentences that keep the emphasis of what you want to say, sentences that are clear to your reader.

Passive sentences – avoid using passive sentences wherever possible. Sentences should be active. Passive sentences slow the narrative and cause it to become awkward. Very often writers shift from active to passive within the same sentence without even noticing.

The ball was kicked by John and bounced into the net.

The action of throwing the ball has become passive rather than active. You should write it like this:

John kicked the ball and it bounced into the net.

Hanging participles - avoid these. As mentioned in other posts, these just conjure ambiguity and are a sign of bad writing. You can’t have a character doing two things at once, like this:

Closing the door, she picked up the post from the floor.

It’s better written like this: She closed the door and picked up the post. Not only is the sentence stronger, it is more concise, clear and tells the reader what the character is doing in a chronological manner.

By eliminating these common flaws, you will produce stronger sentences that give your reader clarity and convey the action without being stilted, clunky or awkward.

So, in summary, you should avoid the following when constructing sentences:

• Faulty parallel sentences
• Misplaced or omitted commas
• Too many conjunctions
• Sentence Fragments
• Passive sentences
• Hanging participles

Next week: Said versus dialogue tags.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Part 3 – Sentences and dialogue

Creating the right rhythm for dialogue sentences is just as important as ordinary sentences within the narrative. How you break up speech, how you punctuate it, how you show the reader who is speaking, requires skill.

Effective dialogue greatly depends on how you structure your sentences. They can end up becoming clunky or stilted without you even noticing, if you are not careful, but these things can be easily amended at editing stage.

Dialogue Sentence Structures

Speech tags show the reader who is speaking, but sometimes, new writers frequently add speech tags to dialogue which are not actually required. For example:

Peter climbed out the car and put his sunglasses on. ‘Let’s check out our new house,’ he said.

The problem here is the tag placement. By telling the reader at the beginning of the sentence that Peter climbed out the car, the reader knows who is talking. This means the ‘he said’ is not required. If you make it clear who is speaking, then you don't need to further identify the speaker with ‘he said or she said’.

Another thing that inexperienced writers tend to do is they put description after the actual action/description. For example:

“Hi, don’t know if you remember me, but it’s Tom, we used to work together.”

“Did we? That must have been so long ago. Sorry Tom, I really didn’t recognise you.” The man’s voice seemed deeper than what John remembered.

The description here is in the wrong place, and its effectiveness is lost because it has been placed at the end of the sentence. If the sentence is changed, then emphasis also changes, and we can show the description before the dialogue, like this:

“Hi, don’t know if you remember me, but it’s Tom, we used to work together.”
“Did we? That must have been so long ago.” The man’s voice seemed deeper than what John remembered. “Sorry Tom, I really didn’t recognise you.”

It’s that easy to change the effectiveness of your sentences. By placing the description immediately after John has spoken about it, we re-affirm the vague memory and how he remembers his friend, before continuing with some more dialogue.’

Rhythm and pace

The rhythm of the sentences ensures a better flow when dealing with dialogue. Every sentence has a pulse – they can be fast or slow, short or long, they can be blunt or soft.  Imagine filling the pages with dialogue made up of sentences of around the same length. It would quickly become stilted and boring, like this:

“I came here to get you,” she said.
“Then you had a wasted journey.”
“I’m not leaving empty handed,” she said.
“I don’t care,” he said.
“I’m taking you back home,” she said.
“I told you, I’m not going back.”

In real life, speech is made up of long flowing sentences, short staccato sentences, there are pauses, there are ums and ahs, there are people talking over each other, people being cut off mid sentence etc. A writer can bring some of these representations into dialogue to inject a little reality, but they should be used sparingly. Too many will irritate the reader.

By varying the length of the sentences, you find tempo and pace:

“I came here to get you,” she said, eyeing him.
His voice became abrupt, nonchalant. “Then you had a wasted journey.”
She sighed, tried not to let him upset her. “I’m not leaving empty handed.”
He looked away. “I don’t care.”
“I’m taking you back home,” she said.
He turned as though to walk away from her. “I told you, I’m not going back.”

There will be occasions were you have a character that has a lot of dialogue and makes quite a long speech. You will need to keep your reader’s attention during this and one of the strategies used by writers is to break up the speech with description. For example, here’s a long section of dialogue from one character speaking to another:

“We were never on the same side, him and me. I know Michael wanted to be a part of the organisation, he wanted all the money and the girls and he could have anything he wanted, but he didn’t know when to stop. He found out about me and he wanted a slice of the real action, he thought he could blackmail me, but he had no idea how deep he was in. No idea who he was dealing with.” His face darkened as though stained by a shadow, his eyes remained cold. “You got problems when that happens, when you want more and more; it’s like a drug, an addiction...”

While this paragraph is perfectly reasonable on its own, the insertion of a brief snippet of description to break up the dialogue helps the reader a) understand what the speaking character is feeling, because the darkening face represents a darkening mood, b) allows the reader to retain interest and attention and c) it varies the pace and length of the sentence to make it interesting.

While great chunks of dialogue are not uncommon in some novels, sometimes a little snippet of description inserted in the right place is all it needs to break the monotony of dialogue.

This is also true with short speech sentences, like dialogue written on its own. Many novels use this, for example:

“I really don’t care what you think...”
“You should, it’s all your fault.”
“Your threats don’t scare me anymore.”
“What, you suddenly found a backbone?”

Dialogue only sentences are okay, in short bursts, but without any background information for the reader, they will easily become bored with nothing to go on other than dialogue alone, and unfortunately the biggest drawback to this is that the nature of dialogue is telling, not showing.

Also, you will notice that they are all pretty much the same length – there is no variation.

Now, by adding description placement – it doesn’t have to be a lot – you can vary the length, keep your reader interested and you can also show what the characters are feeling:

She picked up the knife. “I really don’t care what you think...”
His eyes flashed at the blade in her hand. “You should, it’s all your fault.”
“Your threats don’t scare me anymore.”
His brows creased into an incredulous scowl. “What, you suddenly found a backbone?”

The varying length of sentences gives the writing pace and rhythm and provides more for the reader, but the brief descriptions also provide the sentences with a little nuance which flavour otherwise potentially boring dialogue.

Description placement within dialogue

So where do you tag that little bit of description? At the beginning? At the end? Somewhere in the middle of the dialogue? Does it really matter, so long as you are telling reader what’s happening?

It does matter. How you change the sentence would depend on the kind of structure you want and the overall effect you want to achieve. This is why structuring your dialogue sentences is important because it lends emphasis to the different parts of the sentence, for example:

‘It’s my birthday today,’ Jim said, smiling. ‘We’ll go out for a meal, so let’s not bother cooking.’ He could treat all the family.

Jim smiled. He could treat all the family. ‘It’s my birthday today. We’ll go out for a meal, so let’s not bother cooking.’

‘It’s my birthday today. We’ll go out for a meal,’ Jim said. ‘So let’s not bother cooking.’ He could treat all the family.

Jim smiled. ‘It’s my birthday today. We’ll go out for a meal.’ He could treat all the family. ‘So let’s not bother cooking.’

Which of those sentences is the best one? While all of them are acceptable to a lesser degree, the second sentence is the better choice. Here’s why:

Sentence 1 has Jim speaking, followed by the verb ‘smiling’ which has been turned into a gerund. Then the last part of the sentence has the action after the speech rather than before.

Sentence 2 is much stronger. It has the verb, but it shows the action prior to the speech. It tells us that Jim smiled and what he wants to do next, i.e. treat all the family. It has a logical order.

Sentence 3 dispenses with the verb, but still has the action after the speech and so it is not as strong as the other sentences.

Sentence 4 is strong because it doesn’t have the verb and it also places action before the speech. It tells us Jim smiled; it tells us he will treat the family; this is represented by the writer telling the reader the family need not bother cooking. Each section of the sentence has a logical order.

Where possible, try to make your sentences follow a logical order. This is much better for your reader because such structures allow fluidity within your narrative, it allows them to easily understand what you’ve written and it allows them to follow both your narrative and your dialogue.

You as a writer are looking for the best way to convey your story to your reader. In turn, your reader is looking for accessibility to your fictional creation. How you arrange and structure your sentences is important in ensuring a smooth, fluid read with varying pace and length, but also ensuring that you have written something that logically and chronologically makes sense.

Next week: Part 4: Common sentence errors, how to eliminate them.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Part 2 - How do you structure sentences?

Understanding how sentence structures work should help you build better sentences. But it’s not just about knowing the different types of sentences that can improve your writing – simple, complex and compound sentences -sometimes it is about how we ‘hear’ the sentences when we read them aloud, or when we read them at editing stage that we often find errors.

Often when we look at our sentences, some may not look right. When we read them we might trip up, or stall, or they just don’t make sense – so something isn’t right. This instinct is correct most of the time– it doesn’t look right because invariably it isn’t. That’s why some sentences work better than others.

As an example, let’s take a section of the above sentence and see which of the following sentences works better.  The first one is what I was originally going to write and the second one is the one I chose:

Most of the time, this instinct is correct.
This instinct is correct most of the time.

While both sentences are perfectly acceptable, one reads better than the other because it dispenses with the need to include a comma and therefore a clause. Sometimes the sound of punctuation makes a difference to a sentence. Good, overall sentence structure creates a sense of rhythm and balance within the narrative.

This instinct is correct most of the time is the better sentence.

Clever use of sentence construction also enables a writer to create a vast array of effects for the reader. These include sentence fragments to alter pace, clauses and commas for deliberate pauses, longer complex sentences to slow pace and to stress important points in the narrative, or the use of very complex sentences - used sparingly - which add style and flair. The use of punctuation, like a semi colon, help stress a sentence, as can the use of alliteration.

Take a look at this example:

It was easier to imprison herself rather than face them, and each time the police came they asked the same questions over and over again. But the anger of their accusations remained fresh in her veins, seemingly unsullied by their prejudices, unwilling to go away.

By deconstructing these sentences, we can examine how they could be better written for the entire paragraph.

It was easier to imprison herself rather than face them, and each time the police came they asked the same questions over and over again.

This sentence is a compound sentence – it contains a clause, which means that the sentences are also stand alone sentences separated by a conjunction (And):

It was easier to imprison herself rather than face them. (Stand alone sentence).
Each time the police came they asked the same questions over and over again. (Stand alone sentence).

By removing the conjunction, you create a tighter flow of words and create a sense of balance. You can also create a sense of tension because the sentences become sharper, they lean towards being staccato. Conjunctions are useful, but too many writers rely on the use of conjunctions in the wrong places. Sentence construction can be improved by removing some of them.

But the anger of their accusations remained fresh in her veins, seemingly unsullied by their prejudices, unwilling to go away.

The second half of the paragraph is okay, but could be further improved. Where in this sentence could you insert a conjunction? Have you spotted the ambiguous sentence? Could you make the sentence longer by adding to it?

But the anger of their accusations remained fresh in her veins. Did you spot the ambiguity? Is the anger coming from the police, or is it coming from the main character? Ambiguity can be a major problem with some sentences. They’re not always easy to spot, but they can give an entirely different meaning to sentences.

The anger raised by their accusations remained fresh in her veins. By adding the words ‘raised by’ we can clearly show who is feeling the anger. This gives clarity to the sentence and prevents any ambiguity.

Now we can add a conjunction to show the reader that the entire sentence is a continuation of information.

The anger raised by their accusations remained fresh in her veins, seemingly unsullied by their prejudices and unwilling to go away.

By inserting ‘and’ in place of the comma, the sentence now becomes uniform and continuous. It flows better and does away with too many clauses. Also, the reader will instinctively know from the structure that that the word ‘seemingly’ determines the flow of the latter part of the sentence. This works on a subconscious level; it’s not immediately apparent, but it read it again and you will see.

If you were to try and split the sentence again by adding a full stop after ‘prejudices’ and thus creating a separate sentence, you have to use the word ‘was’ to complete the sentence:

The anger raised by their accusations remained fresh in her veins, seemingly unsullied by their prejudices. It was unwilling to go away.

This sentence isn’t too bad, but the addition ‘it was’ interrupts the flow and rhythm of the original sentence. Not only that, but writers should avoid the use of ‘was’ wherever possible.

Here’s another example to illustrate sentence rhythm and pace:

Shadows poked from corners and filled her with unease, but she managed to control her breathing and her heartbeat, and allowed the sharp burst of fear of the unknown to diminish.

This example isn’t too bad. It’s descriptive, but can you spot where it could be improved?

There are too many conjunctions for a start. This slows the sentence rhythm, when in fact it needs to pick up pace to create tension. Removing all those ‘ands’ makes the sentence tighter:

Shadows poked from corners, filled her with unease. She managed to control her breathing, her heartbeat; allowed the sharp burst of fear of the unknown to diminish.

This shows how easy it is to tidy your sentences and correct the flow.

Which of the following sentences are better and why?

The sky darkened and his breathing quickened, and from somewhere he thought he heard a scratching noise...

The sky darkened. Breathing quickened. From somewhere he thought he heard a scratching noise...

The second sentence structure is better. The short, staccato sentences create immediacy and tension and quicken the pace. The importance of the moment is created because of this fragmented nature. You may find that some computer software, like Word, want you to correct fragmented sentences, but on the whole these are quite acceptable because they lend to the effect of your narrative.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with fragmented sentences, as long as they are part of a sentence structure, as above.

As you can see from the above examples, sometimes improving a sentence means nothing more than changing a word, removing it, adding a conjunction or stressing punctuation. Think about where you want clauses, commas and full stops. Think about how sentences would sound with or without some additional words.

Word order makes a difference. Know where to add conjunctions and where to remove them. Know the difference between using a comma compared to a semicolon to construct clauses. Well-structured sentences tell the reader the importance of different parts of the sentence. Stressed words can help achieve this.

Sentences can be as simple or as complex as we want. As writers, we take sentences for granted, but in essence they’re incredibly important and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

The best way is to improve your work is to read it aloud. ‘Hear’ the sentences. You as the writer will learn to understand which sentences work better and which ones could be improved.

Better sentences do several things -

• Tightens prose
• Makes a point
• Moves the story forward
• Creates rhythm
• Creates clarity
• Creates immediacy

Avoid the following:

• Ambiguity
• Monotony
• Repetition
• Too many conjunctions

Next week: Part 3 – Structuring dialogue sentences.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Part 1 - Sentence Structure

Understanding sentences

How do you know that writing a sentence in a different way is better than your original? Does it sound right, does it read better, does it make the point? More importantly, is it grammatically correct?

We’re not born with the ability to tell the difference between good sentences and bad ones; it is something the writer learns, with practice, and over time, the writer begins to understand the concept of fitting the right words and ideas together. Sentences not only read better, but also sound better. Creating the right sentences with the right words is an art form and it is one of those important elements in fiction writing that give a writer a sense of style and voice.

We write our sentences without thinking about the technical side of sentence construction, but to fully understand and appreciate sentence structure, writers have to understand the form of language and grammar - this is important when creating narrative. 

There are several sentence patterns that a writer should become familiar with – simple sentences and clauses, complex sentences and compound sentences.  Hopefully by gaining a better understanding about the technical side of sentences, you will improve the way you construct your sentences and therefore improve your narrative.

Simple sentences contain a single clause. Complex sentences and compound-complex sentences may contain two or more, but to be grammatical, a sentence should have a subject (a phrase or noun), a verb, and should express one complete thought or idea. For instance:

Jane cried. (Jane is the subject, cried is a verb and the fact that she cried is expressing the complete thought or idea of the sentence). Although it is a short sentence made up of two words, it is still grammatically correct.

Often writers (even famous, established ones, unfortunately) use a participle (or hanging participle) to make a sentence, such as:

Looking down at his feet...
Walking away from him...
Wrapping the rope around the post...

Here, there is only a participle, there is no verb and the subject is unclear. Not only that, but hanging participle sentences cause ambiguity - you cannot describe a character doing two things at once, i.e ‘Reaching for the kettle, she realised she had made a mistake.’ This means she reached for the kettle and made a mistake (at the same time).

Refrain from using hanging participles because these are grammatically incorrect, they’re ambiguous in nature and can cause confusion with your reader. It also smacks of bad writing.


A clause refers to a bunch grammatically connected words which include a predicate and a subject. The predicate modifies the subject. Every sentence consists of one or more clauses and they can be dependent or independent.

Independent clauses have an ability to stand by themselves – i.e. they are what are known as simple sentences. Dependent clauses are used together with independent clauses because dependent clauses cannot stand alone as a sentence. Instead, they enhance the independent clause.

Simple Sentences

Basic sentences which contain one clause are known as simple sentences. For instance:

This sentence is a simple sentence.
This sentence is a simple sentence with a few more words added.

Even one word can be a simple sentence, for instance: No, Wait, Run.

Simple sentences are just that, but to make your sentences lure your reader and to enrich the narrative, you have to create compound sentences.

Compound Sentences

A compound sentence consists of two or more independent clauses joined by co-ordinating conjunctions such as ‘and,’ ‘but,’ and ‘or’, or they can include adjectives like ‘however’ or ‘therefore, as this example:

This sentence is a simple sentence, but this sentence is a simple sentence with the addition of a conjunction.

By using the conjunction, ‘but’, the flow of the sentence is extended and uninterrupted...and this very sentence is also a compound sentence.

Complex Sentences

A complex sentence contains one independent clause and at least one dependent clause. For example:

This sentence is a simple sentence (independent clause) which has a few more words that make it longer (independent clause).

Compound-complex sentences

When there is a combination of a compound sentence and a complex sentence, or two complex sentences, (i.e. with at least two independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses) then you have what is known as a compound-complex sentence.

For instance:

This sentence is a simple sentence (Independent clause)
Which just has a few more words to make it longer (Dependent clause)
It is basic in its form (Independent clause)

This sentence is a simple sentence; it is basic in its form, which just has a few more words that make it longer.

As in the example, you can also join two originally separate sentences into a compound sentence using a semicolon instead of a co-ordinating conjunction.

Conjunctions are handy when constructing short, effective sentences, but it is best to avoid using too many otherwise your sentences will become awkward and will leave the reader tripping over them. Worse still, don’t use commas to simply stitch together sentences, for instance:

This sentence is a simple sentence, it is basic in its form, it has a few more words added, it makes a sentence longer.

This reliance on commas makes the writing look heavy and awkward. Remember to use conjunctions correctly when constructing sentences. Sentences are an integral part of what you write; the aim is to make them as clear and as effective as possible.

Next week: Part 2 - Styling sentences - how to find balance and rhythm and build the right sentence