Swan Lake Sentences: Finding the Flow

By: Marilyn L. Davis

“There’s a hum that happens inside my head when I hit a certain writing rhythm, a certain speed. When laying track goes from feeling like climbing a mountain on my hands and knees to feeling like flying effortlessly through the air. Like breaking the sound barrier. Everything inside me just shifts. I break the writing barrier. And the feeling of laying track changes, transforms, shifts from exertion into exultation.” ― Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

balletWhat Does Dancing, Rhythm, and Flow Have to Do with Sentence Structure?

I’m not a fan of ballet.  Probably has more to do with my inability to walk gracefully, let alone pirouette.  Ballet dancers have the skills required to rotate, whirl, turn around and spin – all in time to the music.

Don’t misunderstand, though; I’ve got rhythm.  I can Walk the Dog, do a mean Funky Chicken, as well as Twerk, Pony, and if I’m alone with a great soundtrack, I’ve been known to bust into a few cheesy club moves.

Now you know that I’ve got foot and hip rhythm, but you may be wondering what that has to do with sentences.  Well, “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”.  Although Duke Ellington was referring to jazz in that song, it applies to sentences as well. What makes a sentence?  Sentences are categorized by:

  1. Simple Sentences: one independent clause and no dependent clauses.
  2. Compound Sentences: a sentence with several independent clauses but no dependent clauses.
  3. Complex Sentence: A sentence with one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.
  4. Complex-Compound Sentence: Independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.
Just a reminder, an independent clause can express a complete thought and will be a standalone sentence.  A dependent clause, also known as a subordinate clause, expresses only part of a thought, so it cannot stand alone. There are also types of sentences:
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•    Declarative sentences give a reader information.
This article is about sentences.
•    Interrogative sentences ask a question.
Did you know all the types of sentences before you read this article?
•    Imperative sentences make a request or state a wish.
I hope you read this article to the end. 
•    Exclamatory sentences express strong emotion and end in an exclamation mark.
I look forward to reading your comments!
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Sentences Sound Different When Spoken

When you write, do you read it aloud to understand the flow of your words?  When you read your material aloud, you’ll know if you’ve written herky-jerky or gracefully moving from one passage to the next.  I recently wrote a piece about the ebb and flow of water and words. Within that post are the words of much more famous authors than myself who understand how words must move gracefully and flow for readers to follow.
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Writing great sentences takes work. But they make any subject interesting, informative, and enlightening. Regardless of which type of sentence you create, there are some exercises that will help you. One of the best sites is Perdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL).  Also, the section on fused sentences and run-on sentences helps you see where the idea just got away from you, and you wrote too much.
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That doesn’t mean that long sentences don’t have their place.  In fact, I wrote a  grammatically correct 162-word sentence.  For that article, I was writing about bloated writing and trying to cram too much into a sentence.  I’ll apologize for repeating my sentence here.  However, it does demonstrate what a wordy, bloated, complex sentence looks like.
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Bloated writing tends to be extremely redundant or superfluous, unneeded, unnecessary, outdated and outmoded, disused or uncalled for; in other words, it is writing using words, phrases, and ideas that do not necessarily help to develop or in any way, shape, form or convey the idea of the story, news report, recipe, article, blog or report that you are creating, writing or thinking about doing, regardless of how much you believe that these additional and extra words, phrases and explanations contained in a single sentence, paragraph or entire article will add value, meaning and a more complete, entertaining, informative reading experience for your readers, not to mention, the added benefit of words that will enhance, improve, augment, and boost the ability of a search engine to find your overly wordy article due to the fact that you have included the additional tags or keywords that you incorporated, fitted into or integrated meaningfully, purposefully, tenaciously and decisively in your sentence, paragraph or article.
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Now for the abbreviated version: Don’t add unnecessary words to your sentences to fulfill a word count, keyword stuff, or impress the readers with your vocabulary. 
We also have to make sense when we tweet; those 140 characters help us make succinct sentences, like, “Unnecessary words add nothing to your article.”  Seven words, 47 characters, and a simple sentence.  To help me remember to have flowing, readable and interesting sentences, I have this quote on my muse board:
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“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words.  Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous.  Listen to what is happening.  The writing is getting boring.  The sound of it drones.  It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.  Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentence. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals – sounds that say listen to this, it is important. Gary Provost

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Start having some fun with your sentences.  Learn about powerful verbs, drop the adverbs, for the most part, and change passive sentences to active sentences.

Make your sentences robust. If you’re still struggling with clunky sentences or getting tongue-tied when you read it aloud, stop writing.

Go find a song that you can dance to, and let another part of your anatomy do some of the work.  Even the best brains need a break.

However, like me, I guess you’ll have to leave Swan Lake to the professionals.

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