A writer can become so focused on creating great characters and plots that she can forget that stories are created out of sentences—one after the other. Sentences matter. They are worth playing with, fussing over, honing, and polishing. Think about the purpose, the length, the structure, the rhythm of your sentences.
For an example of an author playing with sentences, look this excerpt from Louise Erdrich’s The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. There are only three sentences in this paragraph. The first one is medium length, the second is short, and the third one is whopper-sized.
Berndt Vogel’s passion engaged him, mind and heart. He now prepared himself. Having dragged army caissons through hip-deep mud after the horses died in torment, having seen his best friend suddenly uncreated into a mass of shrieking pulp, having lived intimately with pouring tumults of eager lice and rats plump with a horrifying food, he was rudimentarily prepared for the suffering he would experience in love.
The third sentence is elaborate, even excessive, but I think it is effective. The main clause of the third sentence is “he was rudimentarily prepared for the suffering he would experience in love.” Erdrich could easily have skipped the participial phrases in italics. However, including them adds a whole new dimension to the characterization of Berndt and his relationship to Agnes. The type of suffering mentioned in these three phrases are so extreme that the tone takes on a quality that is almost grotesque, almost comic, but still poignant.
I am not suggesting that you should write the way Erdrich does. She has created her own distinct tone and style. Each writer has to find his own voice. It can be worthwhile sometimes, though, to “try on” a different style for the sake of experimentation. Try rewriting some of your own sentences with different syntax, different word choice, different lengths just to see the effect.
Just for fun, try to write a paragraph of your own, but model the sentence syntax and lengths on Erdrich’s paragraph above.
As an example, I wrote a paragraph in honor of my cat Zelda, who does not like to be locked in the bedroom.
Zelda’s outrage enveloped her, head to toe. She arched her back. Having roasted in front of the fireplace like a melting marshmallow on a stick, having decimated her Friskies and then vomited them back up, having mowed her toy mouse down the stairway and trapped it beneath her haunches like a triumphant general, Zelda was prepared to resist her captivity. She yowled.
Now you try, and write your response in the comments. I dare you!
If you are interested in learning more about the craft of creative writing, check out Concordia University’s online MFA-Creative Writing degree here.