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Been reading through my writing and I noticed that 90% of my sentences follow the same basic structure of

[phraseA], [phraseB].

The few exceptions I could find were very short sentences I put there for effect (ie 'oops' or 'that's not good'). Looking a bit closer to try and split things up, I found it was really hard because I had unintentionally made it where phraseA was an independent clause, and phraseB was dependent. Example:

I climbed up the arm into the cockpit, hoping I could remember how to pilot a mech.

When I try to split it up, it ends up a lot like

I climbed up the arm into the cockpit. Hopefully I could remember how to pilot a mech.

In my mind, this seems very short and jerky, which I suppose is why I write them all in the first way. I know I need structure variety, which I expect to be a decent chunk of editing.

Moving forward, how do I keep from doing the same sentence structure over and over?

Note: if you look closely, most of the sentences in this question follow that sentence structure.

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Practice! This can be hard to do in the throes of writing, so it may be wise to do writing exercises. Perhaps a paragraph in which you never use the same structure twice. Or perhaps seeing how many different ways you can rewrite a sentence. (And if they sound stupid, they are just an exercise -- no one will see them.)

  1. I climbed up the arm into the cockpit, hoping I could remember how to pilot a mech.
  2. Full of hope that I could remember how to pilot a mech, I climbed up the arm into the cockpit.
  3. I climbed up the arm into the cockpit and hoped I could remember how to pilot a mech.
  4. Climbing up the arm into the cockpit gave me time to hope I could remember how to pilot a mech.
  5. Hoping I could remember how to pilot a mech did not slow me as I climbed up the arm into the cockpit.
  6. To climb up the arm into the cockpit, and to hope I could remember how to pilot a mech were the work of a minute. etc.
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    +1, great answer! I love to practice sentences like that, it really unleashes your creativity. – Nai45 Apr 9 at 2:11
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So sentence structure is the basic format sentences should take (have you ever in grammar courses graphed a sentence?) and informs how to parse the language. Typically, in English, Sentences follow a [subject clause][verb clause][predicate clause], though imperative (ordering) sentences can have an implied "You" as the subject and no predicate. The sentence "Go!" is the shortest valid sentence in the English Language.

Of course, English being a "Borg" of languages, the format above is given weight to move around. Because English does not use gender to link adjectives and nouns to each other or their status as subject or predicate, it's not as mobile. Typically the verb must always separate the subject and predicate. But they need not be in SVP order... Yoda speak is perfectly valid, which will give a PVS that parses identically:

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter == We are luminous beings, not this crude matter.

In both cases, the subject (We) is understood to be (Are being the second person plural of To Be) the predicate noun (luminous beings). The second part, a counter-conjunctive predicate clause. Since the Verb and Subject are the same, the clause stands alone.

Here, it's not so much the structure as it is the formatting of them for narrative flow. First, your verbal voice is not consistent. Your two verbs are, in their infinitve state, "to climb" and "to remember" but they are "active voice" and "passive voice" respectively. Tense (past/present/future) and voice (active/passive) should remain consistent. Luckily, you already have a simple way to fix this. Try this re-write on for size:

I climbed up the arm into the cockpit. I hoped I could remember how to pilot a mech.

Now your verbs are "to climb" and "to hope" with the "remember" still in the passive voice which makes it an action you hope you can do.

But wait there's more!

In my opinion, in scenes with a high degree of dynamic actions (such as fight scenes or scenes where you're prepping for an imminant attack or other hurried movement is going on), quick simple sentences are the best. Trim as much as you can and if you need to include it, try and make it a second. In your case, you have a third.

I climbed up the arm into the cockpit. I could remember how to pilot a mech. I hoped.

Here, we break our rule for the sake of character, storybuilding, and a minor bit of comic relief. Here, your first person narrator is first describing what he was physically doing, then why he was doing it... then correcting himself in the moment, introducing a bit of doubt. Already you're setting up your audience for an interesting fight scene... this guy is confident enough to get into the pilot's seat of a Mech to fight... but as we're reminded, he hasn't done this in a while... sure he can get back behind the wheel of a Mech like getting back on a bicycle after the same amount of time away from that... but he's going into a fight... the mech equivelent of getting back on the bicycle, and then expecting to win a BMX competition. No Pressure.

The fight to come can then milk some drama or comedy with the hero making a few mistakes against his foe, before he figures the whole system out and manages an upset victory. Could be a serious moment, though the flubs could be played for some laughs (think about how in any Marvel film there's almost always a part where the hero has a fight that knocks him around and gets some humorous pratfalls that amount to a minor victory... but not one that is decisive.).

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  • 'remember' is not in passive voice. If it said "How to pilot a mech was remembered by me", it would be in passive voice (and yes, that's an awkward sentence). The dog bit me = active. I was bitten [by the dog] = passive. – DM_with_secrets Apr 8 at 13:35
  • I'm also not at all fond of "I could remember how to pilot a mech. I hoped." To me, that's very jarring, because 'I hoped' as a separate sentence doesn't really work. I'd either write "I could remember how to pilot a mech, I hoped." or "I could remember how to pilot a mech. At least, I hoped so." – DM_with_secrets Apr 8 at 13:36
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    There are times when jarring is the effect wanted, though it can be hard to judge in a snippet this small. – Mary Apr 9 at 2:09
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I would say, read something different. Reading only one out of the ordinary book can change the way you write drastically (happened to me with 'Catcher in the Rye').

So look up books that don't use too formal of a language, or maybe even the ones that don't use proper grammar on purpose.

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  • The question isn't really about using formal language or proper grammar, more of that most sentences sound similar because of their structure, not depending on the formality of the language. – Nai45 Apr 10 at 15:09
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Mary's answer provided several variations by rearranging the components and changing the sentence structure with minimal change in the words. With more substantial changes other possibilities present themselves.

Breaking the action into two short clauses can increase the pacing and moving a mental/emotional part into a thought can increase the emotional impact:

I climbed up the arm and slipped into the cockpit. I hope I remember how to pilot these things.

Using short clauses for the action and a longer clause in a separate sentence can provide a distancing (just doing a simple action) which can intensify the emotion of the longer sentence:

I climbed up the arm. I opened the hatch and entered the cockpit. I hoped like mad that after seven years I still remembered how to pilot a mech.

Joining a mental/emotional part with an active observation and following with a separate sentence with the action can give a sense of decision or commitment:

I looked up the arm of the mech toward the cockpit and hoped I could still pilot it. I climbed [the five meters] up into the cockpit.

Another option would be to start with a mental part, emphasize it with direct action, and move the physical action into a subordinate phrase. This emphasizes the mental activity over the physical activity. A short completing sentence can provide relief:

Hoping I hadn't forgotten too much, I mentally ran through the start-up procedure as I climbed up the mech's arm. The cockpit seemed comfortingly familiar.

or tension:

Hoping I hadn't forgotten too much, I mentally ran through the start-up procedure as I climbed up the mech's arm into the cockpit. I stared at the controls.

Adding flavor to the mental/emotional sentence can reduce the feeling of choppiness while using direct phrasing in seperate sentences.

'It's like piloting a mech; you never forget.' — I hoped the saying was true. I climbed up the arm [and settled] into the cockpit.

or:

I climbed up the arm into the cockpit. I hoped the saying was true — 'It's like piloting a mech; you never forget.'

("Then I remembered the rest of saying 'or at least no one's lived to tell about it.'"☺)

A moderate change to the sense could support a more forceful tone where separate shorter sentences will not seem choppy but intense:

I scrambled up the arm into the cockpit. I had to remember my mech training.

A different change could provide a softer tone:

I climbed up the arm into the cockpit; the cool dimness eased my nerves as I tried to remember how to pilot a mech.

The shorter first clause is forceful, the semi-colon provides a forward-pointing break, and the longer clause with a more abstracted perspective softens the tone. Nervously trying to remember is not identical to hoping to remember just as feeling one has to remember is not the same as hoping, but such changes support different sentence structures.

The original sentence structure has a pleasantly even flow, but such easily degrades into a sing-song feeling with extensive use and does not provide changes in pacing and emphasis that may be appropriate in context. The above examples, in addition to those in Mary's answer, show some ways of modifying sentence structure. In some cases, changes to the wording can facilitate substantial changes to sentence structure and the related pacing and tone.

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