When Lyn Cote became a mother, she gave up teaching, and while raising a son and a daughter, she began working on her first novel. Long years of rejection followed. Finally in 1997, Lyn got “the call.” Since then, Lyn has written over twenty-five novels. In 2006 Lyn’s book, Chloe, was a finalist for the RITA, one of the highest awards in the romance genre.
When I completed my first manuscript, I thought a national day of celebration should be proclaimed. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered contest judges, agents, and editors weren’t impressed by my 700 neat pages. They expected not only that each chapter, page, and paragraph be effective, but they also demanded that exacting standard apply to each sentence and even each word. Didn’t they know that perfectionism of this level put them at risk for early cardiac arrest?
When I had no luck changing their minds, I decided I would have to conform. Being a seasoned (or shell-shocked) English teacher, I went back to the basics of sentence structure. There are only four types of sentences in English. (Yes, that’s all we have to work with.) They are:
: subject + verb.
Compound: subject + verb + conjunction + subject + verb.
Complex: subordinate conjunction + subject + verb, (comma) subject + verb.
Compound-complex: a compound and a complex sentence joined by a conjunction.
These are the basic building blocks for every page you will ever write. So you ask, what’s a dramatic about them? How could Margaret Mitchell, the Brontës, and Jane Austin do magic with these building blocks? Here’s how.
Seven Power of Rules
1. The simpler the better. The clear, simple sentence packs more power than a long string of clauses.
2. Keeping #1 in mind, a variety of sentence structures is preferred to repetition of just one. Even one paragraph of only simple sentences disturbs the reader.
3. In a paragraph of long sentences, a short sentence takes on prominence and vice versa.
4. Humans always remember the last word they’ve read. Just as we build a plot to a climax, every sentence reaches a climax at its end. Save the best to be used as a last word.
5. Subordinate conjunction subordinate or weaken the clause they introduce. They make the clause dependent on another clause, one which can stand alone. Example: “when we come home late” cannot stand on its own be and understood. (Common subordinate conjunctions: if, because, after, before, since, when).
6. Don’t bury your most striking word or idea in the middle. Example: “Jake will explode when we come home late.” Explode is the most evocative word in the sentence and it lies buried in the middle. Why not build up to that evocative word? “When we come home late, Jack will explode.”
7. When you break rule #6, everyone notices! If you put the most important word first (instead of last), you give it special emphasis. Example: “Explode, that’s what Jake will do when we come home late.”
These seven rules are the touchstones of dramatic sentences. And, once you can create dramatic sentences, you’ll be able to use those sentences to build evocative stories and articles — and make sales.