Writing Tool #1: Begin Sentences with Subjects and Verbs

It seems appropriate that Clark’s first piece of advice is the start of a sentences; put subjects and verbs first, think of them as “the locomotive that pulls all the cars that follow.

This section from page 295 of Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince:

They walked out onto the pitch to tumultuous roars and boos. One end of the stadium was solid red and gold; the other, a sea of green and silver. Many Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws had taken sides too: Amidst all the yelling and clapping Harry could distinctly hear the roar of Luna Lovegood’s famous lion-topped hat.

Harry stepped up to Madam Hooch, the referee, who was standing ready to release the balls from the crate.

Captains, shake hands,” she said..

I had to actually dig a bit to find an example because Rowling’s books have so much dialogue in them and this expository form is easier to identify.

The subject and verb are the engine pistons in American Gods too, from page 66:

Shadow excused himself to use the bathroom – a closet like room, with several brown-spotted framed photographs of men and women in stiff Victorian poses. It was early afternoon, but already the daylight was beginning to fade. He heard voices raised from down the hall. He washed his hands in icy-cold water with a sickly smelling sliver of pink soap.

The final sentence, he washed his hands is strong enough to stand on its own, but also powerful enough to bring along the sickly smelling sliver of pink soap.  

Clark notes in the introduction of the book, and reminds the reader here, that these are tools not rules.  Moving the the subject, verb, or subject and verb at the end can build suspense.  In Catching Fire, book two of The Hunger Games trilogy, our heroes find themselves in a bit of a tight spot, preparing to enter another battle to the death.  Caesar – the pre-games interviewer – is suggesting to one that it’s better to have loved and lost, than to never have loved at all.

“Maybe I’d think that, too, Caesar,” says Peeta bitterly, “if it weren’t for the baby.”

Bam!  Katniss might be pregnant.  The characters on the page even start to act like a bomb exploded.   Suzanne Collins could have written that dialogue in a few different ways, but saving baby for the end gave it an extra weight.


These writing tools are from Roy Peter Clark’s wonderful Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.  My examples are like Hostess cupcakes compared to Clark’s professional wedding cake.  I’m the $20 Gucci knockoff to Clark’s Italian leather.  I’m the nobody who’s written nothing, he’s the pro who’s written it all.  

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