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Don't start every sentence with the same word: "She did this. She did that."
Keep your writing fresh
In my last article in this series, I wrote about adverb abuse and how it can create clunky writing. This second article will talk about varying the subjects of your sentences to keep your writing fresh.
Here is an exaggerated example of what you should not do:
Amanda is searching for a treasure. Amanda crawls through a cave. Amanda adjusts her flashlight on her head. Amanda scrapes her knee on a rock. Amanda sees a light shining through the cave. Amanda heads towards the light. Amanda is sure the treasure is nearby.
Change the subject
Every sentence starts with Amanda. It not only sounds repetitive, it also sounds juvenile. Almost all writers recognize that they can't write this way. The first thing I see beginning writers do to fix the problem is to alternate using the characters name with he/she. So we see something like this:
Amanda is searching for a treasure. She crawls through a cave and adjusts the flashlight on her head. She scrapes her knee on a rock and then Amanda spots a light shining into the cave.
The paragraph stills has the juvenile feel. Most writers recognize that, so the next thing I see them try is to vary the sentences. Something like this:
Amanda is searching for a treasure. Crawling through a cave, she adjusts the flashlight on her head. After scraping her knee on a rock, Amanda spots a light shining into the cave.
The writer may think that by changing the beginning of the second sentence they have created variety in their writing, but they haven't. The subject of the sentence is still the same, it's still Amanda/she. The problem isn't fixed. As long as Amanda is the subject of all the sentences the writing is going to feel flat and unoriginal.
The solution to this problem is to change the subject of the sentence.
As we are writing, we often get caught up in what our characters our doing. In writing this story I may be thinking, "I need to have Amanda move through the cave." And so all of my sentences reflect Amanda doing things. Amanda crawls. Amanda scrapes her knee.
But, we can show our characters movements/actions without them being the subject of the sentence. It takes practice to learn how to do this, but an easy way for a beginner to start is to think of the environment the character is in and make aspects of the environment the subject. In the above examples, the subject of each sentence was always either "Amanda" or "she". Below is an example of the same scene, but with varied subjects and more detail. I will bold the subject of each sentence so you can see the difference it makes.
Amanda is certain the king's lost treasure is in the cave. Rocks scrape against her arms and legs as she crawls over them. The surrounding darkness seems to swallow the slender beam from the flashlight on her head. Her eyes are suddenly drawn to light shining through the stony walls. The treasure has to be nearby.
This is a simplistic example, but I've moved my character through the same scene as in the above examples. Instead of having the subject repeated seven times, each sentence has it's own unique subject. This creates variety in writing, keeping it from sounding tired. Remember, you can show your character doing something without the character being subject of the sentence.
The effect is amplified when sensory details are used as the subject.
Instead of saying:
"Cinderella raced out the door."
Change the subject and add a sensory detail:
"The clock chimed as Cinderella raced out the door."
"The coldness of the cobblestones stung her feet."
"The sweet taste of the prince's kiss lingered on her lips."
Changing the subject of the sentence to something other than the character can also help set the scene.
"A family of aspen trees with bright yellow leaves welcomed Cinderella into the forest."
Take a look at your writing and see if the subjects of your sentences are all the same, or if there are several in a row. If there are, change the subject. Draw from the environment and try to pull in sensory details. Doing this will add depth to your writing and keep it from sounding stale.