“Vary Your Sentences: Begin with a Different Part of Speech” by Joan Y. Edwards
In the book Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon, she gives you many ways to vary your sentences and improve your manuscript. One new way intrigued me. It was a new perspective on varying sentences for me. I’ve written about varying sentences by making them as long as ten words or shorter than 40 words. Make some sentences simple, some compound, others complex. Elizabeth Lyon says you can vary sentences by beginning sentences with a different part of speech. Certainly you might not want to do this for every paragraph or use all ten of them on every page. But if you find yourself in a rut of the same kind of sentences in a paragraph, using her idea will help you change the pattern and add emphasis to the sentences instead of letting them disappear into a sing-song rhythm.
You say, “Explain it more. I don’t understand what you mean.”
Okay. Let me see if I can make it easier to understand.
Take the longest paragraph from the first ten pages of your manuscript.
Here’s one I made up for this blog post:
Steve left the bar at 2:00 a.m. He locked the doors and turned on the security. He wondered if that guy was really going to come back and get the girl at the bar. That creep wasn’t going to get her if he had anything to do with it. Where was Sarah anyhow? He’d seen her leave an hour ago with a friend. He looked to the right passed the cars parked near the dumpster. He saw sparkly material on the ground. He ran to check it out. He couldn’t believe what he saw.
I’m sure you’ll agree that this paragraph needs help with varying the sentences. Out of 10 sentences, seven of them begin with the word “he.” That is boredom at its height. Help! My paragraph needs help.
To improve the sentences using this method, you have to know the different parts of speech and how to use them properly.
What are the parts of speech? Here are parts of speech, definitions, and an example of a sentence beginning with it. The University of Ottawa, Canada has a site with many parts of speech with definitions and samples: http://www.uottawa.ca/academic/arts/writcent/hypergrammar/partsp.html.
1. Interjection is a word or a short phrase usually followed by an exclamation point that can stand alone. Use sparingly. The English Club.com has examples: http://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/interjections.htm. Use sparingly in manuscripts.
Oh my! He lost his wallet.
Yikes! The roof is leaking.
2. Preposition is a connecting word that shows the relationship of a noun or a noun substitute to some other word in the sentence, including time, location, manner, means, quantity, purpose, and state of condition. (Unbelievable information about prepositions at this link from Hunter College Reading/Writing Center http://rwc.hunter.cuny.edu/reading-writing/on-line/prep-def.html) And even more about prepositions at About.com http://grammar.about.com/od/pq/g/prepositerm.htm
On Wednesday the bird in the tree sang a song for the children at the playground after lunch.
From the auditorium we could hear the band rehearsing.
3. Conjunction is a word that joins words, phrases, clauses and sentences. There are three types of conjunctions: and, but, or, yet, so, for, nor. Coordinating conjunctions work in pairs: both…and; either…or; neither…nor. Subordinate conjunctions: before, while, since, because, and until.
Jane went to the store. However, she did not make a purchase.
Neither Tom nor Jack drove the truck.
Before Jake blew out the candles, he took a deep breath.
4. Verb is an action word, state of being, or a helping or linking word. The English Club has a list of 600 regular verbs: http://www.englishclub.com/vocabulary/regular-verbs-list.htm and also Moms Who Think.com has lists and explanations of the uses of different kind of verbs: http://www.momswhothink.com/reading/list-of-verbs.html
Run to the corner and back.
Curl your hair with the new rollers.
5. Adverb is a word that describes or limits a verb. Most of the time, it’s good to use a better more specific verb than to use an adverb of manner ending with “ly.” MomsWhoThink.com has a list of common adverbs: adverbs that indicate place, purpose, frequency, time: http://www.momswhothink.com/reading/list-of-adverbs.html
Yesterday he raced his car.
Somewhere lurked the cat.
6. Gerund is a noun using the ing form of a verb. Owl at Perdue University has good examples of gerunds at work in sentences: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/627/01/
Running is his favorite stress reliever.
Sewing keeps her busy.
7. Noun is the name of a person, place, or thing.
Men, women, and children filled the mall.
Newspapers featured a story and pictures about the new invention.
8. Pronoun is a word that takes the place of a noun in a sentence.
Uncle Jim backed the trailer into a parking space. He was sure the space was big enough.
9. Adjective is a word that describes and often precedes a noun. Keep and Share.com has a great list of adjectives that describe appearance, condition, shape, size, sound, time, taste, touch, quantity, and feelings: http://www.keepandshare.com/doc/12894/adjective-list
Red shoes tapped the rhythm.
Three uniforms hung in the lockers.
10. Limiting Adjectives Articles A, an, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Writing Center has great examples and explanations of the uses of the artilces, a, an, and the: http://www.rpi.edu/web/writingcenter/esl.html
A dog barked.
An apple dropped from the tree.
The mailman delivered the package on time.
Okay. Now you’re very familiar with the parts of speech mentioned above. You are ready to do one or more of the following exercises to help you see what pattern of sentences you use most often and decide if you want to use a different part of speech for the first word of your sentences to improve your writing.
Exercise 1: Print out a page of your manuscript – preferably a whole page. Underline or highlight the first word in each sentence, then put a tally mark in the appropriate column in the chart below.
Exercise 2: Rewrite that page with the purpose of varying the sentences. If you used only two ways to begin your sentences, use three more ways to vary your sentences on that page. You want the writing to flow smoothly. Sometimes you want to repeat a pattern.
Exercise 3: Copy the first page of your favorite book. Underline or highlight the first word in each sentence, then put a tally mark in the appropriate column. Does your favorite author vary the part of speech for the beginning of her sentences?
Exercise 4: When you critique another writer’s work, you might think that sentence variation would improve the writing. If so, make a chart like this for them and mark the beginnings of their sentences on a random page or give them a link to this blog post.
Part of Speech Variation of First Words in Sentences on a Manuscript Page
I hope this helps you understand the work of the parts of speech, and how to use them to vary the structure of your sentences in your manuscripts. Only use this if you agree with 100 per cent that it will help you.
Please leave a comment.
1. How many ways did you begin your sentences on the page you selected?
2. Do you think rewriting your page using a different part of speech for the first word in your sentences helped improve your story? If so, why? If not, why not?
3. How many parts of speech seems natural to use on a page?
If you leave a comment below before December 13, 2011, I’ll put your name in a hat to win a free first page critique (first 250 words). I’ll focus on critiquing it according to three questions you ask and three questions of my own.
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Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2011 Joan Y. Edwards
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