How to Write a Good Sentence

“How to Write a Good Sentence” by Joan Y. Edwards

It is imperative to have a subject and a predicate to make a complete sentence. In other words, your sentence has to have a noun and a verb.

I love the quote from Joyce Griffith, Griffith Publishing “How long should a sentence be? As long as it needs to be, but no longer.”

Two of my blog articles listed below have memorable lines from movies or books. It is a great idea to find good sentences and share them in a blog post or with your writing group(s). I am excited that Shannon Doyne and Holly Epstein Ojalvo said, “Make a collection of your favorite sentences from anywhere.”

I think it’s a good plan to note the book, magazine, newspaper, movie, television show, or person who said them. For comparison and to help you recognize when your sentences aren’t up to par, list bad sentences and sentence fragments. Share them in a blog post or with your writing groups.

I have heard people say to learn to write a picture book, copy the words of your favorite. My granddaughter, Kylie Hackett, says she can write better when she writes things in her own handwriting. Many writers swear to this technique.  They write their first drafts with pen or pencil and paper.

Try writing down at least 3 of your favorite sentences from best-selling books in longhand. It may unleash your senses and make connections with your brain to create wonderful sentences. Then write your own sentence about your story and your characters using that same pattern.

Here’s a sentence from a best-selling book, Middle Passage by Charles R. Johnson. I like its structure and sound:

“Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.” I found it on Ranker.com. It has listings of first lines, videos, and links to buy, too.

I rewrote this sentence to fit two of my current works in progress: I didn’t use longhand. I typed them into the computer.

Of all things that drove Lisa to thoughts of death, the most serious one was her pregnancy.

Of all things that enticed Aunt Sophie to make biscuits, the most effective one was a smile.

Another webpage I recommend to study sentences is Story Starters.  When you click on the button in a box on the page, it shows you a great opening line for a story. Try it. It’s number 12 in the Related Articles. Each sentence is original and clever.

If you have 50 good sentences and one bad sentence on a page, it ruins your credibility with readers. The readers may close the book. You say, “Not just for one error.” You may be right. However, if there are more than three bad sentences on one page, I believe the reader will close the book.

There’s one thing that might keep them in regardless of the errors, that is curiosity about what is going to happen to your main character. Make your writing intriguing and coherent. Put all parts of the story together in a logical order that makes the story easy to understand. Each sentence in your story must be necessary to highlight character, plot, problem, solution, setting, or weather. If the sentence doesn’t move the plot or story along, cut it out and save it in a ‘Great writing but not necessary for this story” folder.

There are many places where it is essential to have strong sentences that hook the readers:

  • At the beginning of the book in the first chapter.

  • At the beginning of each chapter.

  • At the end of each chapter. It has to lead readers to wonder what will happen on the next page.

Unless you are writing flash fiction, it is important not to put your whole story in one sentence. Charles Dickens had extremely long sentences with 100 words or more. I noticed one page had only two paragraphs on it. A manuscript page has 250 words. If each sentence had 100 words in it, one paragraph might take up more than one page. Most of the J. K. Rowling Harry Potter books have sentences of 40 words.

Here’s a lesson to learn from these two writers. Not all of their sentences were long. Some were short, others were middle length. They varied their sentences in the descriptive text and in the dialogue. A sentence with punch is usually a short sentence or a phrase of dialogue that might not be a complete sentence. They put short sentences to add tension and punch to their stories. They put long sentences in between crisis situations. That made it seem like everything was going along smoothly.

Do that with your writing, too. Vary the length and structure of your sentences to keep your reader’s attention.

Radio likes simple sentences, rather than compound or complex. Simple for the ear. You don’t have to put the whole story into one sentence. However, flash fiction tells a story in as few words as possible.

What do I mean by structure? A sentence is simple, compound, or complex.  Here are examples:

  • A simple sentence has one subject and one verb.

    John ran to the store.

  • A sentence can have a compound subject.

    Harry and John ran to the store.

  • A sentence can have a compound verb.

    Jill cut and pasted the labels.

  • A complex sentence has one independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses.

  • A phrase is a group of related words that does not have both a subject and a verb

  • An independent clause is a group of related words with a subject and a verb and can stand by itself.

  • A dependent clause does not express a complete thought. It does not have a subject and a verb. A dependent or subordinate clause standing alone is a common error known as a sentence fragment.

Phrase (Sentence Fragment): The town in the center of the state
Phrase (Sentence Fragment): Lemon merengue pie on the shelf
Phrase (Sentence Fragment): In the corner

Compound sentence: The eagle landed and it shook its feathers.
Complex Sentence: Before the eagle landed, it shook its feathers.

Compound sentence: The skies darkened and the town slept.
Complex sentence: When the skies darkened, the town slept.

Compound sentence: The clock stopped and the people died.
Complex sentence: Once the clock stopped, the people died.

Good sentences keep your readers in the book from the beginning to the end. Good luck with your writing.

Related Articles:

  1. Joan Y. Edwards. “First Lines from Non-Fiction Best Sellers:” https://www.joanyedwards.com/2012/04/25/first-lines-from-non-fiction-best-sellers/

  2. “How Many Words Should Your Sentences Contain?” http://joanyedwards.com/2010/09/20/how-many-words-should-your-sentences-contain/

  3. Joan Y. Edwards. “Memorable First Lines:” https://www.joanyedwards.com/2012/04/18/memorable-first-lines/

  4. Joyce Griffin. “How Long Should a Sentence Be:” http://jgwritingtips.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/how-long-should-a-sentence-be/

  5. My English Teacher.net. “Sentence Fragments:” http://www.myenglishteacher.net/sentencefragments.html

  6. Newswriting for Radio.com. “Broadcast Sentence Structure:” http://www.newscript.com/sentence.html

  7. Ranker.com. “100 Famous Novels with Catchy First Lines:” http://www.ranker.com/list/100-famous-novels-with-catchy-first-lines/info-lists

  8. Ranker.com. “Middle Passage.” Read more at http://www.ranker.com/review/middle-passage/7105436#iSiCdfPAxRr8flPI.99

  9. Sheila Allee. Ragan.com. “Add Punch to Your Speeches in 6 Easy Steps:” http://www.ragan.com/Main/Articles/Add_punch_to_your_speeches_in_6_easy_steps_45218.aspx#

Please share with me your favorite sentences. Thank you for reading my blog. I hope it helps you write good sentences that hook your readers forever.

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Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards, Author
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Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
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10 thoughts on “How to Write a Good Sentence”

  1. Joan,
    I like the idea of collecting your favorite sentences. Maybe that will catch on like collecting quotes. Lots of information here! Will you consider a post on passive vs. active verbs?

    1. Dear Linda,
      Thanks for writing. I’m glad you like the idea of collecting your favorite sentences. Wouldn’t that be neat if that would catch on like colleting quotes. I’m glad you think there is a lot of information here. Sure, I’ll be glad to write a post about passive versus active verbs. It’s a key to good writing. You have the best ideas. Thanks for sharing them with me.

      Celebrate you.
      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards

    1. Dear Widdershins,
      It’s so good to hear from you. How are you? Thanks for saying my attention to detail is impressive. Your loyalty in reading my blog and commenting is impressive to me. I appreciate it very much.
      Celebrate you.
      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards

  2. I just made a page in my notebook for the favorite sentences. I love your examples. It is a great idea. Thanks for the wonderful information.

    1. Dear Karen,
      Thanks for writing. I’m glad you made a page in your notebook for your favorite sentences. Hip Hip Hooray for you. I think I might do that in a notebook, too. It’s actually fun to put different words into the same patterns. That’s why I loved teaching kindergarten because I love creating patterns with beads, blocks, and other neat items. You’re very welcome for the information. I hope it helps you and inspires you to take another step towards your life goals.

      Celebrate you and your gift of laughter.
      Never Give Up
      Joan Y. Edwards

  3. The way I put it, Joan, is: “All prose is poetry.”

    But the idea of writing it out in longhand wouldn’t work for me, because I can’t read my own handwriting!

    🙂
    Bob

    1. Dear Dr. Bob,
      Thanks for writing. I like your way of looking a prose. Goodness! It’s good we have computers and tape recorders.

      Good luck with your writing and publications, and your blog articles!

      Never Give Up
      Joan

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