3 weak sentence constructs to avoid in our writing

As writers, everything we read and write develops our ear and eye. We learn how good writing sounds, how it leaps off the page, how it sends a thrill or a chill through us. A good line has bite. And we develop an eye—an eye for glaring spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors, so that those, too, pop off the page.

Reading a lot is a given for a writer—it develops your ear. And editing and critiquing—whether it’s a friend’s cover letter for an employment opportunity, judging for a writing contest, or the in-depth work we do for our critique partners—develops both our ear and our eye.

I’ve found a few sentence constructs that pop up in writing (my own included) that diminish the strength of the prose. When revising, we can find phrases with more “pop,” replacing weaker sentence constructs with those that have more “bite”.

1.)    There is/are/was/were. What is “there”? It’s not a character, not a meaningful object or place in the story. “There is” is one of the weakest sentence constructs I can think of, especially in fiction, when we have so much poetic license to be creative. “There is” can generally be replaced with a stronger, more vivid construct. “There is a tree deep within the forest…” can easily become “Deep within the forest, a tree stretches out its great, wide arms…” Because “There is…” really doesn’t mean much at all. But “A tree stretches…” takes us right to the heart of the sentence. When I revise my work, I try to avoid this sentence construct as often as possible. It’s too easy, it’s often telling not showing, and it’s just not powerful enough. “There is” is okay every once in a while. It’s just best in very minute doses.

2.)    I felt/he felt/she felt. If you’re in first-person or in third-person close, “felt” can be useful but highly overused—especially in a first draft. When revising, we can note these places in our writing. If we find this structure frequently, it’s time for a change. Why? Because, like “there is,” “I felt” can often be cut, leaving us with a stronger sentence. “I felt my heart thumping in my chest,” becomes the much stronger, “My heart thumped in my chest.”

3.)    Overuse of rhetorical questions. “How was Blake going to get out of this one?” “What was Cassie going to do?” I find these phrases peppering my first drafts—often because I honestly didn’t know how Blake was going to get out of this one, or what Cassie was going to do. They were more for me as a writer (clues to myself that I needed to figure something out) than for my reader. Every once in a blue moon is okay. In subsequent drafts, I try to delete these phrases as much as possible. If we’re not careful, such questions can start annoying the reader. Don’t you think? 😛

What weak phrases do you find in your own or others’ writing? How do we vanquish weak sentence structures so we can make our stories really sing?

Consider donating to help maintain Crit Partner Match:

Earlier today, I received the following email from Kait Nolan, indie writer and founder of the Crit Partner Match site. For those of you who aren’t familiar, CPM is “like Match.com for writers,” connecting writers with potential critique partners based on genre, critique style, skill level, etc.

I don’t know how I’d survive without my critique partners. They tell me what I need to hear, straight-up. They support my work but also call my attention to what does or doesn’t work.They ask the hard questions. In other words, they help my work realize its full potential.

So, apparently, Grou.ps, the site used for CPM, is now charging for use of its services, and the fee is pretty steep–at least for one person to manage on her own. Here’s Kait’s email:

So I started CPM back in…lord, it’s been quite a while, but back then it was on Ning and Ning was free. Then Ning went to paid plans and I moved to Grou.ps because Grou.ps was free. Guess what? Grou.ps has been moving to paid plans. it’s been ongoing for a while and apparently they have started limiting membership for the free groups to 25. We have 314. I think because I’ve been around since the beginning, I kinda got grandfathered in without being charged. HOWEVER, it’s recently been brought to my attention that new members cannot join. The front page apparently says that the group is NOT accepting new members. Well I’m not cool with that because we like new members.

So I go digging to check out the plan options. For our group to continue to grow it will be $8.95 a month. Which comes out to..roughly $ 108 a year. Now I don’t actually get anything out of this group. I found my CP via other means and just started CPM as a means for other writers to connect in a more unified place because I would be lost without my CP and I think others need to be able to FIND ONE. But I really don’t have $108 a year to toss out of pocket.

I may do some research on the possibilities of charging a very small fee for membership (like $2 a year or something). There is also the issue of potentially monitizing the site (which also requires a plan upgrade to be an option). I’m not interested in making a profit, just making enough to cover the costs of running the site. For now, though, I am going to ask for donations. Give as little or as much as you like. I’m not setting any thresholds.

If you like Crit Partner Match and feel it’s been helpful to you and you’d like to see the group continue to grow, please donate a little if you’re able. Send any donations via Paypal to kaitnolanwriter (at) gmail (dot) com. Once we’re upgraded, I’ll absolutely look into monitization options that will allow the site to remain free and self sustaining.

Thanks for your support! Happy writing.

Kait
Your CPM Founder

So, I’m chipping in a small donation, and I’m challenging others to do the same. If you can spare a buck or two to keep a valuable service for fellow writers going, please consider doing it. That’s not even a latte!

I also want to hear success stories about critique partners. How did you find your like-minded peeps, and how much have they helped you?

My story: I met Kathleen Foucart and Amelia Ross in graduate school. We founded our little group informally, meeting at local coffee shops. Over the years, we’ve grown as writers, each developing our own voice and finding our own path. We met last night, actually, and they totally saved me from months of muddling through a couple of difficult scenes by helping me find the right direction. We give each other support, guidance, a chance to vent, and plenty of cheerleading, as needed.

I hope all writers get the chance to do the same!