One Sentence Per Idea

Now as easy as it is to break up overly complicated sentences into their component parts, it is just as hard to bring together all of your component parts into just one sentence. In other words, each sentence in your manuscript should further one discrete idea. Once that idea has been exhausted, you move on to the next idea to advance the plot.

Again, I'm going to work through yet another sentence from my current manuscript so you can see what I mean. I was advised over and over again to end run on sentences, as such, I frequently end up with fragmented sentence that repeat the same idea only adding a tiny new detail. Don't go crazy adding long sentences, learning to craft a good one takes a lot of practice. They should be used sparingly and strategically. Modern writing favors the snappy short sentence, but the ability to write a good, long sentence will help you land attention from agents and publishers.

Westbrook returned with a small tray of coffee. He passed them around. Charlie carefully sipped on hers. It was hot, and sweet. Oh, he was one of those guys. Well that explained a whole lot about his coffee addiction.

This is a great passage. Now, I'm not going to reduce these six sentences into a single sentence. Let's count the number of ideas I have in these six sentences.


  1. Westbrook delivers the coffee.
  2. Charlie is surprised by the taste of the coffee
  3. After which, Charlie understands more about her co-worker
Let's combine these sentences into three, and then pare those three sentences back into a nice paragraph. 

Westbrook returned with a small tray of coffee(s) and passed them around. Charlie carefully sipped on the hot, sweet liquid. Oh, he was one of those guys; well that explained a whole lot about his coffee addiction. 

Fewer sentence, but not better. Let's try again. There's a problem with 'a small tray of coffees', this doesn't covey what I want. More specificity here would be helpful. Try again.

Westbrook returned from the breakroom and passed out the coffees. Charlie carefully sipped on the steamy, surprisingly sweet liquid. Oh, he was one of those guys. No wonder he had a coffee problem. 

As you can see, I ended up breaking up that last combined sentence. It gave the paragraph more punch that way. I shortened the last sentence. A also added a bit of alliteration there in the middle to spruce up prose. I like this better. But your tastes may vary.

Try combining sentences where you can, and see what it does to your paragraphs.

 


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