Co-ordinating Conjunctions - Use Them to Your Advantage


There is a lot of mixed advice about using co-ordinating conjunctions such as ‘and’, but’, ‘or’, ‘so’, and ‘yet’ etc. Some people advise against their use in writing, while others advocate it. What advice should you follow? Which one is right?
The simple truth is that there is absolutely nothing wrong using co-ordinating conjunctions to start a sentence. This writing myth may have evolved around rigid schoolteachers who taught children that such sentence constructions were not grammatically correct and thus perpetuated the idea that it’s wrong to use them. But it isn’t wrong.
That’s because writing is all about balance rather than ‘right or wrongs’. For example, the general advice about adverbs is to cut down on their use and use nouns and verbs to strengthen your narrative. That doesn’t mean that every adverb must be eradicated. It just means to cut back on them to make the writing better. The same is true for adjective use or passive sentences etc. So there is no reason why conjunctions shouldn’t be used, especially as they have their uses.
By using ‘and’ or ‘yet’ to start a sentence, for instance, you can make the reader pause for a split second before reading the rest of the sentence.  They can also create a sense of atmosphere or drama or provide some inflection. For example, compare the following sentences.
The tick of the clock grew louder as she stood in the shadows, even though she knew her mind had played tricks. The darkness in her eyes changed from grey to black.
The sound stopped and the silence rushed in.
Although there is nothing wrong with the sentence structure – it provides mood and tension within the narrative – the tone can be altered slightly by using a co-ordinating conjunction or two, for example:
The tick of the clock grew louder as she stood in the shadows, even though she knew her mind had played tricks. The darkness in her eyes changed from grey to black.
But then the sound stopped. And the silence rushed in.
It’s so subtle, it would be easy to miss, but the sentence now forces the reader to linger over the words ‘but’ and ‘and’, because of the pause, which then provides the narrative with some emphasis and makes them more interesting to the reader.
And that’s why writers use them. They can emphasise not just certain words, but whole sentences within the narrative. At the beginning of the first sentence in this paragraph, I’ve use ‘and’ to emphasise the point. It wouldn’t have been quite the same if it had not been used.
There are seven co-ordinating conjunctions to choose:

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So
Emphasise and accentuate tone, atmosphere and drama whenever you can, so use co-ordinating conjunctions to your advantage and change flat sentences into interesting ones. That doesn’t mean you should start every sentence this way, but like everything in fiction writing, it’s all about striking a balance between all the elements.

Well placed co-ordinating conjunctions make the reader pause for a brief second. They emphasise certain sentences and provide nuance and tone. They can make flat narrative appear interesting.  Clever use can create a sense of atmosphere and mood.
So, can you make your narrative interesting?
Or not?
Try using them more, and you’ll see just how they change the narrative.

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