Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Writing Wednesday: Creating Dynamic Sentences

We all have our strengths as writers, yes?

Mine is creating pretty prose. At least, that's what I think it is based on feedback and my own sense of my writing. See, my story ideas always start with a sentence, something that pops into my head and burns itself into my eyeballs until I have to make up a story to go with it. Here are two that have turned into novels so far:

"Where do you begin to look for a girl made of scars and stardust?" 

"There's tragedy in our chemistry; my grief and his longing are combustible."

And these sentences came for the manuscript I'm working on now:

"They aren't really soulless scraps of metal and mortar. Frankly, this robot is just as human as I am--the threads of copper weaving through my hair, the click, click, click of my engineered heart. We're made of the same stuff on the inside." 

So I'm pretty okay in the beginning with the ideas and snippets of paragraphs, and at the end when I'm editing for stronger sentences. Everything else in the middle takes a lot of freaking hard work. And revision. So that's why I'm not going to write today about fixing plot holes and creating excellent thrillers. I'm going to write about this one method I use to write kickass sentences.

If you're reading back through your story and you're feeling like something is off, like you haven't quite given a sentence or paragraph that punch that you need to get your point across, try this: On a sheet of paper, write down a list of the most important nouns in that paragraph (or page, even). I'm sure you'd have at least one per sentence, but maybe more. Got it? Great. Here's my list for one paragraph:


Now think of an occupation, preferably a dynamic one. It could be anything: chef, carpenter, teacher, salesman, race care driver, electrician, etc. On the other side of that sheet of paper, make a list of a bunch of verbs that would go with that occupation. So, for example, if I picked a professional swimmer, I might write down these verbs:

Slice (through the water)

Okay, now try to snap the two together: The robot's wiring sliced through the back panel, soaking me in dread. There was no way I'd be able to fix this; I didn't have the tools. But then a speck of light splashed across the metal, and hope kicked up in my chest. Maybe I could save it.

That was just a quick example I came up with on the spot, and it uses a ton of those words (you may only need one or two) but it's actually really fun when you use it when editing. It's also really fun if you're having trouble coming up with a new idea, or you're stuck in your novel and don't know where to go next. Come up with a list of random nouns and try to throw them together with some dynamic verbs. It's crazy to see the stuff your brain comes up with!

Happy writing!
Andrea Hannah is a YA writer represented by Victoria Marini of Gelfman Schneider. She writes stories about criminals, crazy people, and creatures that may or may not exist. When she's not writing, Andrea teaches special education, runs, spends time with her family, and tries to figure out a way to prevent her pug from opening the refrigerator (still unsuccessful). Oh, and she tweets a bajillion times a day, mostly about inappropriate things. 

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8 secret replies:

  1. Ooh, I like this idea! I tend to write in rather plain, straightforward language, but sometimes you do need that little bit extra to spice things up. (I think it’s pretty amazing how people can write like that on a regular basis, but I don’t think it’s for me to do so all the time—or most of the time anyway.) This sounds like a great method. Bookmarked for future reference. :)

  2. Interesting idea. I'm more of a dialogue person and I find anything too fancy just sounds strange (unless it suits a particular character) so I rarely get to play around with anything like this. The verbs in my work are mostly said, sat, walked. You know, all the boring ones! I'm bookmarking this to give it a try when I get to revising.

  3. Ditto Valerie, I tend to write fairly straightforward as well. But I like this and will give it a try. Thanks for sharing!

  4. This is great! I'm saving this page for when I get to my next round of editing. I'm always looking for another way to say something and this looks like it's more fun than what I usually do: stare at the ceiling and talk to myself until my brain gives me the word I'm looking for.

  5. This is such a great idea! And those starter sentences are all so interesting and beautiful. I always struggle over the first sentence, but I'm good with writing lasts (for the end of chapters or the final line in a manuscript). I've never heard of this technique before, but now I'm going to have to try it out! Thanks for the tips :)

  6. Ooooo Andrea, you write so gorgeous!!!
    Thank you so much for sharing your ideas. Dialogue is always what comes easier to me -- pretty prose, not so much. I get stuck (especially during line edits) just trying to make nicer sentences. This is perfect for my brain freezes, and I'm sure I'll be using it A LOT.

  7. This is great advice!! I will use it ;o) Thanks! Great post <33