Monday, May 05, 2014

Crafting Powerful Sentences

My oldest son is in fourth grade, and he recently came home with an interesting homework assignment. He had to pick out what his teacher called ‘juicy sentences’ from the book he was currently reading. These juicy sentences (I love that term, btw) are the ones that evoke the most emotion, imagery, tension, etc.

It’s difficult to craft sentences like that. It’s all about choosing the right words for your story, which is easier said than done. Part of it is feeling out the story and using the words that pop into your mind, and you can’t really explain why you choose them. You just do. This skill takes a long time to learn how to do effectively, and can’t really be taught. But there are a few guidelines that can help steer you in the right direction.

1) Avoid repeated words.
When we repeat words or phrases in our stories, it lessens the impact each time that word is used. This includes repeated imagery. If you’ve just referenced a color as a feeling, or a metaphoric smell, or specific kind of texture, then avoid using that same reference again. If possible, don’t use it anywhere else in the story. This keeps it original, and the single use makes it powerful.

2) Avoid common, everyday words.
Words like just, then, anyway, so, though, etc. dilute the sentence because they’re filler words. They don’t add anything to the underlying meaning of the sentence, and can (most often) be deleted. Don’t worry about these words that crop up in your first draft. After you have the big picture working, then you can go through and remove them.

3) Avoid overly used phrases.
The most powerful sentence is one that conveys a familiar meaning/image/feeling/etc while using unfamiliar construct of words. Phrases that have been around for quite some time are more like conversation filler. They don’t really have any meaning except to let the person verbally meander. A powerful sentence doesn’t meander; it gets right the point and hits you hard with its intent. Instead of taking the easy way out and using a phrase that you’re familiar with, find a new way to say it.

Some examples to avoid: of course, I was like, I couldn’t help but wonder, I noticed, in my mind’s eye, only to be met with, sent shock waves of, like a bat out of hell, glimmer of hope, throw in the towel, etc.

To create your powerful sentences, constantly ask yourself if there’s a stronger way of telling your story. Embrace the concept of ‘less is more.’ Look at each word and ask yourself what its purpose is. If you can’t answer, then you either need to delete it or find a different word. Make your sentences as juicy as possible.

This is a lot of work. A lot. But it’s also what separates the good writers from the great ones.

4 comments:

mooderino said...

Juicy sentences are definitely worth working on.

mood
Moody Writing

Diane Carlisle said...

I don't understand this, but I always find the juiciest sentences in horror novels. lol

Tabitha Olson said...

LOL! That makes sense, though. The tension in a well-crafted horror novel is so tight that any little thing will set the reader off.

Vijaya said...

What a great exercise. Juicy sentences and Velcro words (the ones that stick in your mind).