8

For the past four months, I've been writing back and forth with a friend of mine in a form of roleplay. Depending on what's happening, our replies range from a few sentences (usually with dialogue) to a few paragraphs. While I've gotten much better at writing and understanding my main character, I've begun to notice how I always seem to fall back on the same structure, the same verbs, etc. Here are a few examples:

He leaned into her touch, watching her with a content smile on his face.

He gritted his teeth slightly, pouring the hot water into his cup as he felt his cheeks heating.

He raised an eyebrow at her, before slowing his pace a little, moving to step by her side.

His breath caught in his throat, and he coughed a little, looking away.

He held the door for her, allowing her to pass through, before moving to follow her.

Now, what I'm mainly pointing out here is my habit of starting with either my character's name or pronoun, my tendency to use a comma followed by a verb (sometimes multiple times in the same sentence, and my repeated use of phrases or transition words such as "moving to [verb]", "before", "and he", etc. I do often write small notions about what's going on in my character's head, but that's not applicable for every single reply I write.

It's been driving me crazy, but I often don't know how else to word/structure certain things. The nature of roleplay already puts me into a position where I can only write things my character is doing, saying, thinking, or feeling -- is this a natural consequence, or could I be doing more?

  • Nothing wrong with using a pronoun or the character's name. That's what you're talking about, after all. "Beware of trying to get too clever," Tom Swifty expostulated. – Wildcard Mar 15 '17 at 5:50
5

I'll go ahead and do some examples, using yours.

He leaned into her touch, watching her with a content smile on his face.

rewrite: A content smile spread over his face as he leaned into her touch. rewrited: Contented now, he smiled as he leaned into her touch.

He gritted his teeth slightly, pouring the hot water into his cup as he felt his cheeks heating.

re write:Pouring the hot water into his cup as he felt his cheeks heating, he gritted his teeth slightly. rewrite: His cheeks warmed, and with a slight grit of his teeth he poured the hot water into the cup.

He raised an eyebrow at her, before slowing his pace a little, moving to step by her side.

rewrite: With an arch of his brow at her words, he slowed, moving to step by her side.

His breath caught in his throat, and he coughed a little, looking away.

rewrite: A breath caught in his throat, and he coughed a little, looking away.

He held the door for her, allowing her to pass through, before moving to follow her.

rewrite: Holding the door, he let her pass before moving to follow her.

As you can see, I'm using several forms of variance.

  • putting an ing after the verb and using that to start the sentence
  • starting with with.
  • Starting with A.
  • starting with the state of being. such as contented, footsore, sad, downcast...you get the picture.
  • Starting with "His" which is one of the variances you are already using.

Other variances

  • Adverb beginning

What I haven't done is any --ly work. You could start "He held the door" with a descriptive such as "Gently, he held the door..."

  • Body part beginning

You can also start with a body part: Lip twisted in a smirk, he slowed to meet her. Hands shoved in his pockets, he shivered in the cold. Shoulders slumped, he put an arm around her.

  • location in relation

There's also starting with placement--On his knees...Behind her...Under the marble archway..Through the door he strode...

7

I don't think length per se is a problem in your examples. It's more the monotony of the repeated three-part structure.

Here some ideas for varying the structure.

Varying Length and Structure. First, break down your sentences into individual propositions--teeny, tiny sentences, each of which makes a single claim. Like this:

  • She touched him. (implied by your first clause)
  • He leaned into the touch.
  • He watched her.
  • He smiled.
  • The smile was on his face. (a bit silly to break it down this far, I admit)
  • The smile was content.

Now combine these individual propositions in as many ways as you can think of:

  • He leaned into her touch. He smiled, content, as he watched her.
  • He leaned into her touch and watched her, content, a smile on his face.
  • He smiled, content, leaning into her touch as he watched her.
  • He smiled, content, leaning into her touch, watching her.
  • ...

The Writer's Options is a terrific book of exercises for exploring different ways to combine ideas into sentences. It's a college book—with college book prices—but it's been around since the dawn of time, so you can probably find a used copy at a nice price.

Even Longer Sentences. Another possibility is to actively lengthen your sentences. As I said, the clunkiness in your examples is in the repetitive structure, and not in the length or clarity of the sentences. Each alone is delightful and clear. I'll bet you have the skill to build longer sentence that are just as clear as your examples.

Brooks Landon's book Building Great Sentences is a tour de force of ways to build even longer sentences than yours, step by step, each step building on the ones before, building clarity, rhythm, specificity, and energy as you go.

Finding Subjects. If your character is observing things around him, you can sometimes use those things as the subjects of sentences:

  • The wind rattled through the windows, chilling him through his thin jerkin.
  • Steam spiraled up from his cup, pirouetted, and melted away into the chilly air.
2

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.” ~Mark Twain

1. Get rid of adjectives. (As much as possible use a specific noun so you don't have to use an adjective also.)

Examples:

less good:

The angry man stood by the tree.

better:

The man stood by the tree cursing and pounding his fist into his hand.

less good :

Herman jumped into his sports car and drove away.

better:

Herman jumped into his Porsche 924 and sped away.

2. Use strong verbs.

If you use strong verbs you will be able to write with fewer words that have more impact.

Examples

replace quickly walked with scurried, scrambled, ran

replace angrily grabbed with jerked, yanked, snatched

3. State things clearly and bluntly (use active language instead of passive).

Examples

passive : > Much fun was had by all.

active: > The entire team celebrated their win over their arch rivals.

  • 1
    +1 for strong verbs, which allow us to delete adverbs (which I think are less necessary than adjectives; sorry, Mr. Twain). – Ken Mohnkern Mar 16 '17 at 13:08

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