4.02.2012

Back to Basics - writercize #172 #AtoZChallenge

Anyone remember the basics of sentence structure? Would you be able to label each part of a sentence with the appropriate part of speech? 

Chances are, with the exception of a few editors out there, you'd be somewhere in my realm. I have a feeling for what works and what is best left alone, and I can certainly tell you the difference between a verb and a noun, an adverb and an adjective, but ask me how to fix a sentence that ends in the word "to" or identify appositives and relative pronouns and I might look at you cross-eyed.

As I stretch my brain back to third grade and the basics of sentence structure, I remember every sentence (in English) must have a subject and a verb. That's it. Two simple words. I also remember it was deemed "preferable" to add an object.

Basic (subject/verb):
He played.

Step up (subject/verb/object):
He played ball.

I would be willing to bet that most of you reading this do not employ such simple sentence structure often. I certainly don't. I am a sucker for sentences that sing and dance in waves. I want my writing to flow, and short sentences create a staccato rhythm that I don't generally seek. Then there is my oft-used medium of journalism, where articles should exhibit an average sentence length of 16-17 words (so says the Associated Press Guide to News Writing). 

With so much of our reading and writing focused on longer sentences, why should we pay attention to the short guys? 
  • Well, for one, breaks in the rhythm can be satisfying, and very telling. They can allow the reader to catch a breath. They can paint a different mood, or identify an important shift. 
  • If we want to write for children (as I do) we have to know to reel in the words and use shorter sentences to harness power. Same goes for teaching children, and really speaking with them, truth be told. Ever see a kid's eyes glaze over with a run-on diatribe?
  • It can really help identify holes in plot. Want to know if a story is working? Strip down every sentence to the basic action and see if the story is headed in the right direction. From there, you will see if there are holes that you need to fill in, or if there is fat that needs trimming.
Today's writercize will give you the opportunity to go back to basics and practice writing very short sentences. (This may feel like the exact opposite of freewriting.)

writercize: Write a short story using sentences of no more than six words each. 

Begin the story with a five-word sentence using the following structure: subject (noun) / verb / preposition / article / object (noun). Feel free to use the word bank below for your starter.

subject: He/She/Dad/Madeline/Tim
verb: played/ran/jumped/biked/swam
preposition: over/under/on/in/around
article: a/an/the
object: bridge/river/rainbow/mountain/forest

Leave your story as a comment. You should be able to complete a (very short) story in 50 words or less. Think board book!

(And PS - come back tomorrow for a C prompt that promises to be less than 100 words in the entire post!)

Click "read more" for (a very short) writercizer sample response about a boy and a rainbow.
writercizer sample response:

Tim ran around the rainbow. He liked to see the colors. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. He tried to touch the rainbow. It slipped through his hands. Tim smiled. Good things are hard to catch.

49 comments:

  1. Well, this is cool. I usually mix up the sentence length in my paragraphs. Sometimes I go as far as writing a one word sentence.

    If there weren't soooo many blogs to visit, I'd stay and play.

    Shelly
    http://secondhandshoesnovel.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One word sentences can make a great impact! Would love to have you stay and play after the challenge. :)

      Delete
  2. Raymond Carver of course, was the king of the short "telling" sentence. I grew up as a writer in that era. though imitating the minimalist can result in some pretty bad sentences)) interesting B post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't say I am familiar with Raymond Carver so I will have to check him out.

      Imitation can certainly give pretty mixed results. Luckily, playing with the words is part of the fun, and we can generally hide our less stellar attempts.

      Delete
  3. What an interesting, fun (and challenging) exercise!

    Martin jumped over Alice's body. His wife was clearly dead. He chased the masked man. The man dropped his bloody knife. Still running, he entered the forest. Martin followed, gradually gaining. Finally he tackled his wife's murderer. Martin pulled off the mask. He gasped. Voice wavering, he said, "Dad?"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This really packs a punch! So few words and yet so chilling!

      Delete
    2. This was great! :) Didn't see that ending coming.

      Delete
  4. I've read a similar writing exercise, though not necessarily for short sentences. Your sample structure reminded me of it. The exercise has you take a sentence from a book you have on hand and rewrite it, substituting each word in the sentence for another word from the same part of speech.

    This is, of course, a good way to end up with gibberish, but with a little forethought, it can create some unexpectedly interesting lines. I've started several stories that way, just to get my creative wheels turning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds like a very interesting writing exercise. I'll have to give it a whirl sometime. Thanks for sharing!

      Delete
  5. My challenge to myself to write all my A to Z blog posts in 200 words exactly helped me write more concise sentences.

    http://gail-baugniet.blogspot.com Theme: A World of Crime

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly 200 words each? That is quite the challenge and exercise in editing! I will certainly come by for a visit to check it out!

      Delete
  6. What a fun site!!! So glad you came and found me Alana!

    ReplyDelete
  7. He hiked over the ridge. He stopped next to a tall pine. Her scent was on the breeze and he knew in his soul he was on the right path.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good work. That last sentence inched above six, but I could definitely see how to break it into three sentences to fit through and through.

      Nice opening line!

      And of course the last sentence sounds the best .... :). Once we are used to them, the beauty of a complex sentence is tough to match!

      Delete
  8. Alana: I will definitely be back once the challenge is over - i need this kind of discipline! Thank you for sharing that wonderful stuff - words are really not enough on their own - we've got to put them in the right context for them to come to fruition. Eh! isn't that what we're supposed to do with kids? :-) Sylvie - LittleSToday.blogspot.ca #36

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hooray! Would love to see you hanging out around here after the challenge is done. :).

      I love the context you give your words too!

      Delete
  9. I do tend to use some short sentences. It makes some accuse me of being choppy, but I like mixing them in. I just signed on to the A-Z challenge, nearly at the last minute, but I'm trying to visit every blog at least once.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think a mix is a really smart way to keeo your audience engaged. Too many of the same rhythm can easily bore.

      Welcome to.A to Z and best of luck making the full rounds!! I know a couple who did it last year and managed to blog all the way through as well! I visited about 400 so fell short, but hoping to make it all the way around this year!

      Delete
  10. Favorite two-word sentence is from Stephen King.
    "Plums defy."

    Following you now. =)

    prose.spective.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Plums defy.

      Brilliant. Love it.

      Thanks for the follow!

      Delete
  11. I'm the Queen of run-on sentences and often when I edit the changes I make are using LESS words in a hopefully better way. Usually, though, I'm just long-winded.

    Successfully Underachieving

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha! I hear you! I don't edit this blog and I sometimes look back and go,"woah!" My edited work is definitely tighter, but I think there is space for all of it. :)

      Delete
  12. Short sentences can also provide a sense of urgency.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I am now following your blog and can't wait to try some of your writercize challenges :)

    Lisa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fabulous! Thanks for the follow and I look forward to having you try some writercizes! :D

      Delete
  14. I love the challenge and this is a great site! Will be back when A-Z ends. OR, when I have more posts completed, whichever happens first. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for the great compliment! I will welcome you back with open arms whichever comes first. :). Selfishly, holping for more posts completed since I love to see how the challenges pan out in the "real world."

      Delete
  15. I actually wrote a five short sentences about a sphinx, and then lost them when I hit the wrong button. WAAHH!!! But this is a great idea. I'm a new follower and a fellow A-Z blogger.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh no! Aaack! I really hate when that happens. I am pouting here for you.

      Five sentences about a sphinx sounds like an awesome take,

      Thanks for the follow and best of luck with the challenge! I will be visiting. :)

      Delete
  16. It was noon when she started. She wrapped it in a towel. After three blows, the coconut opened. Hammer and towel, nothing else. Prying the flesh was a challenge. She grabbed her sharpest paring knife. Little by little the blender was filled. White coconut flesh for soup. Next, the knife pierced through flesh. Not coconut flesh, but human flesh. The pain was followed by darkness. Hours and stitches later, coconut soup.

    ---whew! That was hard but fun =) This is mostly true story by the way (no stitches but glue instead). I'm typing as my palm heals from todays coconut fiasco.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh no pretty Mama!! Ouch!! What kind of glue did you use? At home or at the doc's office? That sounds terrible painful ... hope the soup tasted so good it made up for it. :)

      Delete
    2. Good morning Alana! It was dermaglue applied at the doctor's. =) Sadly, the avocado and coconut soup was too rich, maybe I'll use a young coconut next time.

      Keep the challenges rolling, they are so much fun!

      Delete
  17. I know it is not perfect and not exactly in line with the format but I found the exersize interesting and thought to give it a try.

    Someone knocked at the door. Ann dragged herself out of bed. She didn’t appreciate 5am visitors. And she surely didn’t expect him. He looked at her with pleading eyes. She slammed the door in his face. Today was six years since their mother’s death. Seven years since she had seen him last.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's pretty darn close to the six word max format! Thanks so much for trying it out! Pretty amazing how fast a story moves along with the method.

      A broken relationship between siblings - curious to know more!

      Delete
  18. New to your blog. I have fav'ed it. Daily writing input - my kind of meditation. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Maggie! I am glad to have you here and hope you find some inspiration to get that daily writing in. :)

      Delete
  19. Ha! My bitch is: why not just stick with subject and verb, why did they (those cloistered grammar mavens) have to confuse everything with the word predicate? ;-) I see you have a Cormac McCarthy challenge for us. If I weren't so busy I'd stay and play, but I will subscribe and come back another day. Oh, and I often use three-word sentences to outline an essay or a story I'm working on. It's a great way to get action in the outline.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Seriously! Haha.

      What a brilliant way to outline and make sure you have the action. I will definitely pass this along to writing groups. :)

      Look forward to having you stay and play another day!

      Delete
  20. Read your rainbow story to Monkey! She enjoyed it! Thanks for the tip on writing for children!

    ReplyDelete
  21. I found you on the A to Z challenge and I think this post in particular will help me with my writing, although my problems deal more with too many commas.

    great blog, look forward to reading more.

    ReplyDelete

I love reading your feedback and your writercize results! Please feel free to leave your website address at the end of your comment. I will delete spam, but welcome writers and bloggers to share their sites with the writercize community.