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Grammar in Fiction 2: Sentence Structure

In creative writing, sentence structure can vary greatly to serve a story and the character's voice. It keeps the paragraphs flowing, engaging the reader and showing the tone of a scene.


So, how do you master sentence structure to create great fiction?


The Use of Punctuation

We could talk about punctuation all day, but to keep it simple, let's discuss commas and full stops. Where are they placed, and how do you know which to use?


Many new writers struggle with issues like run-on sentences and comma splices, because they don't understand where breaks should go. Sentences that sound natural when spoken aloud won't necessarily make sense on paper.


We all know the basics: full stops (or periods) are used to end a sentence, and commas do everything in between.


There are many rules for commas, but the most important trick is to read your sentences aloud, then rethink the writing.

  • Where are the natural breaks in speech?

  • Where does the topic change?

  • How many times have you already used conjunctions like and, that can keep a sentence going forever?


Active vs Passive Voice

Usually, you can spot a passive sentence with words like 'by', 'were', 'was' or even 'because'. Active sentences are direct, and often shorter than passive sentences.

Particularly in fiction, active voice keeps your story going in an engaging way. Passive voice also has its place, however. Many new and established writers struggle with finding the right balance, so don't dismay if you have trouble with it, too!


Simply, active voice refers to a sentence where the subject impacts its verb. In passive voice, the subject receives the verb's action.


Passive: The book was read by Samantha.


Active: Samantha read the book.


See how the second option keeps the writing flowing?


But this doesn't mean you have to edit out every passive sentence in your writing. Sometimes, the occasional passive voice helps keep the writing varied and interesting. It might even make more sense that way.


The best advice here is to read widely and study the way successful authors build their sentences. What do the writers in your genre typically do?



Point of View and Tense

In any writing, it's important to consider the tense and point of view, so you can keep them consistent. Both can change the entire structure of a sentence.


There are three points of view you can choose to write your story in:

  • First person writes directly as the character and their thoughts (I, we, my)

  • Second person writes as if the reader is the character (you, your)

  • Third person writes about the character, and has several of its own subcategories (she, they, her)

If you switch points of view in a scene, your reader will instantly become confused. This is why it's important to choose one and stick to it.


You then have to consider if your book written in past, present, or future tense.

  • First/Present: "I drink from the glass, needing the hydration"

  • First/Past: "I drank from the glass; I needed the hydration"

  • Second/Present: "She drinks from the glass, needing the hydration"

  • Second/Past: "She drank from the glass; she needed the hydration"

In general, past tense goes best with third person, and present tense goes best with first person. You'll very rarely see second person or future tense used.


Choose a tense and POV that works well with your storytelling and the voice you want to create.

Don't forget to come back next Monday to discuss Grammar vs Voice, and sign up to the All Write Newsletter to never miss a blog.

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