See Jane Write Good

Here’s the fine print:  I’m not an English savant; I don’t have an MFA.  I know just enough to be dangerous, and that’s…well, dangerous.

Despite this, I’ve recently found myself dwelling on the nuances of sentence structure.  I know what you’re thinking: boring.  But stay with me.  If you’re awake at the end of class, it means you’ve read my story about men and bras.  (I’m nothing if not desperate for your attention.)  In the meantime, let's talk about sentences.

Here it goes.

There are a million ways to arrange your subject and predicate, another million ways to splice and compound.  It’s overwhelming, really.  As authors, we’re on the hook to understand at least a modest portion of this mind-numbing subject in order to build our books.  Personally, I hate writing crappy sentences.  Out of context, that last one might qualify.

But anyway, how do we construct our 50,000+ word towers if, on the English-knowledge-scale, we merely qualify as dangerous?  How can we appear to know more, from a literary perspective, than we actually do?

Here’s my trick: Don’t start every sentence the same way.  Get away from what I like to call the “See Jane” syndrome.  The moment you start your sentence with a new and different word is the moment you’ve begun to build a tiny literary masterpiece.

To illustrate this, I’ve written a story.  Each sentence of this yarn starts in a distinctive way, and that’s important.  An unabridged dictionary offers you 600,000 words to choose from, so it would be silly to always begin with “See”.  Just saying.  And for those who are interested in the scientific names for these syntaxes, they’re included.  Perhaps you’ll be able to stomach that portion of the lesson if you consider the subject...

Bras!  Men!  Men!  Bras!

Without further ado, here are eleven unique ways to start a sentence.

At the entrance to the mall’s brassiere shop stood a man with his hands jammed into his pockets.  (A Prepositional Phrase)

He walked inside looking for his wife, but instead ran directly into a faceless mannequin who wore a leopard print teddy.  (A pronoun)

Excusing himself, even though it was hardly necessary, he made his way to the counter.  (A Participle Phrase)

As he did so, his cable knit sweater caught the clasp of a bra hanging from the nearest rack.  (A Conjunction)

Panicked, he stepped away, but the bra stretched and followed him.  (An Adjectival Participle)

Undergarments of all types began pointing to him as the rack tipped.  (A Noun)

Swearing seemed reasonable enough, though he didn’t mean to yell quite so loud.  (A Gerund)

To avoid any more unnecessary commotion, he righted the rack and gave it a well-meaning hug to ensure its stability.  (An Infinite Phrase)

Meanwhile, his amused wife looked on from the entrance where she had been waiting all along.  (A Transition Word and/or an Adverb)

Alas, he had proven her longstanding argument: Men are unnecessarily hung up on women’s unmentionables.  (An Interjection)

The end.  (An Article)

For real…the end.  Wake up.  Class dismissed.  Go forth and put this little nugget into practice.

Let’s go write something not crappy!

- Brooke Fossey, DFWWW Member since 2010

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