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February 1, 2010
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On Basic Sentence Structure for Fiction
(Grammar Nazis BEWARE!)
Everything I ever learned about writing Fiction DIDN'T come from school; not even college. In fact, the way one writes fiction is almost the complete opposite of everything I learned in school about writing.

In order to make my stories crystal clear in my readers' imaginations, I write in precise Chronological Order, in the order events actually happen, PLUS in the order that the eye sees it.

Case in point, when describing a character, I describe them from top to bottom, in the order that the eye notices them. Face, hair, upper body, arms, hands, then lower body, legs, feet, then over all impression. <-- In that order, UNLESS a body part is doing an action, such as a hand (grasping, slapping, twiddling a pencil, etc…) or the feet, (walking, jumping, kicking, running, etc…) When someone is doing an action, that action ALWAYS comes first.

Try it yourself. Go to the mall, or any other place where people gather, and LOOK at the people around you. Pay close attention to what you notice first then next. Next, watch a movie and look at how the camera pans across someone.

-- Top to bottom = friendly
-- Bottom to top = sexual
-- Hands (weapons) to top to bottom = fearful/threatened

THAT'S how it should appear on the page because THAT'S how it will appear in your readers' imaginations.  

-- Example:
He flipped up his middle finger, narrowed his green eyes, and tightened his full mouth. His red hair spilled in messy finger-combed spikes across his brow and down his back. His shoulders were stiff with tension under his dirty white t-shirt. He stood with his booted feet apart and his jean-clan knees slightly bent as though braced for a punch.

And yet…
-- Writing in chronological order means that your sentence structure can't always conform to the 'proper grammar' rules. This is because the basic composition of an Essay <-- what they teach you to write in class, isn't anything like the composition of a Story.

Essay composition:
1. Tell them what you're going to tell them.
2. Tell them in detail.
3. Tell them why you told them.

Story composition:
1. What happened first.
2. What happened next.
3. What happened after.

Essays are NOT written in Chronological order, they're written in order of Impact.

1. This is Important!
2. These are all the reasons why it's important.
3. This is why it's important to You.

See the difference?

One of the greatest enemies of fiction that one is actually taught in school is the use of the word: "as."

The Evil "As."
In school, they teach you that "as" is a word used to connect fragments of sentences together, rather in the same way as you would use "and." Unfortunately, "as" doesn't quite work the same way as an "and" in fiction.

-- "As" means, "things that happened simultaneously."
-- "And" means, "this happened next."

In Fiction NOTHING is truly simultaneous because the eye READS only one thing at a time. The only things that can actually be counted as simultaneous in written fiction are groups of things.

-- Example:
All the soldiers marched.
(And I didn't even need an "as.")

Edit: I'm not saying that simultaneous events CAN'T be written, it's that using "as" is not the way to do it. Any group of events listed in one sentence are generally perceived as happening all at the same time -- until you get to the "and". However, they should still be listed in the order in which they happened so as to make the reader's VISION of the whole event crystal clear.

As far as I'm concerned, the only place an "as" belongs is at the BEGINNING of a sentence.

-- Example:
As all the soldiers marched, the drums and fifes played.  

Where "As" goes WRONG…
I consider "as" a red flag word. A word that marks that something has gone terribly wrong in my sentence structure.

What went wrong?
-- In fiction, the word "as" usually marks where a sentence has gone Out of Chronological Order.

-- Example:
The vampire scratched his head thoughtfully as he crouched over his victim.

Think: Which actions actually happened first?
1. The vampire crouched over his victim.
2. He scratched his head thoughtfully.

The chronological way to write this would be:
The vampire crouched over his victim AND scratched his head thoughtfully.

Why does this matter?
-- A sentence Out of Chronological Order means that the reader has to Stop Reading to reset their mental movie of your story. Every time this happens, the reader has to stop, reread, then reset their imagination. In short, it makes your story more Work than Fun to read. That's bad, very, very, BAD. Do this enough times and your reader will stop reading your story to go find something easier to imagine. In fact, some readers will not only drop your story, never to read it again, they'll avoid anything else you write.

How to Grammar Check for "as":
Do a Search/Replace substituting "as" for "and," then go back and read through your entire work.

If "and" doesn't read right in your sentence, then the sentence is most likely Out of Chronological Order.

-- Example:
The werewolf flattened his ears angrily as he faced the hunter.

-- Search/Replace:
The werewolf flattened his ears angrily and he faced the hunter.
"And" doesn't quite work there, does it?

What's wrong?
-- As written, that sentence implies that the werewolf flattened his ears THEN faced the hunter -- which is Not what happened.

Which actions actually happened first?
1. The werewolf faced the hunter.
2. He was angry.
2. He flattened his ears.

-- Adjusted:
The werewolf faced the hunter and he angrily flattened his ears.
Now the "he" doesn't fit, so let's chop that out.

-- One more time:
The werewolf faced the hunter and angrily flattened his ears.
See what I mean?

Rule of Thumb on the use of "AND":
One "and" per sentence. If you need a second "and," pull out the first one and use a comma, or use "then."

-- Example with comma:
The werewolf faced the hunter, angrily flattened his ears, and growled.

-- Example with "then":
The werewolf faced the hunter, angrily flattened his ears, then growled.

If you need three "ands," replace all but the last with commas.

-- Example:
The werewolf faced the hunter, angrily flattened his ears, growled, and lunged.

If you need more than three "ands," then it's time to cut it into two separate sentences.

-- Example:
The werewolf faced the hunter, angrily flattened his ears, and growled. He lunged and snapped.

In Conclusion…
-- Fiction should ALWAYS be written in Chronological Order, even when the grammar rules say that you don't have to for your readers' Visual CLARITY. Believe me, they'll appreciate it!

DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

Ookami Kasumi
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HaikuBaikuu Featured By Owner Aug 27, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you so much. I've been trying for a long time to work out what has been making my sentence structure and grammar so awful, and it is precisely this. My writing is far more fluid now.
Imiss2010 Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2014
How is this? I'm not sure what to think. 

She had a cute round face and big blue eyes and wavy brown hair that went a little past her shoulders onto the white button down blouse she was wearing. She carried a small brown purse next to her slim arms and gripped the strap with her small hands showing her white nail polished tips. The short denim shorts she wore looked good on her slim shapely legs.

was I descriptive enough? I did the best I could. This story is mostly for guys.
TheHomicidalTeenager Featured By Owner Edited Aug 23, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
It should be more along the lines of: She had a cute round face, big blue eyes and wavy brown hair that went past her shoulders and onto the white button down blouse she was wearing. She carried a small brown purse next to her slim arms and she gripped the strap with her small hands, showing her white nail polished tips. (Insert persons name), thought the denim shorts she wore looked good on her slim shapely legs. 

This is pretty nice description if it has to do with a guy checking a girl out. Though I would try to spread it out in a scene rather tan clump so much information. No guy I know, including myself, would notice a girls nails unless they were dragon claws or something unusual. You should focus on breast, waist, hips, butt and legs for the most part, face would usually be last unless she was outstanding in that department. If the girl's body is hot, despite how shallow this sounds, I'm not focused on how round her face is. And unless the guy has a hair fetish or is in love with her, the hair should not really be mentioned unless its accentuating either her neck or breasts. I'm assuming you're a guy so you should think about what happens when you check out someone you find attractive. We usually only notice the parts we find like most, so unless your protagonist is into round faces, long brown hair, and white tipped nail polish, it shouldn't really be in there.
Imiss2010 Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2014
I thought you said when describing people you only get three sentences. But in the example you use 4 sentences
DaintyKitty Featured By Owner Mar 8, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I want to clarify something as I am uncertain about it.

You said here that the only time that 'as' should be used is in the beginning, no where else. If that's the case, why is the word 'as' made then?

Also, what word would you use if you are to have 2 actions happening at the same time? Like not one after the other, but at the same time.
Like, say, for example, the crowd cheered loudly at the same time when the runners pushed off. What do you do about that?

Just something I wanted clear up thank you :)
Clearly I'm not the author of this tutorial. If you don't mind, I'd like to take a shot at explaining. And if I'm wrong I'm sure someone, or the author herself, will correct me.

"As" is a conjunction to indicate something happening during the same time when something else is taking place. The example the dictionary on my laptop gives me is this: "Frank watched him as he ambled through the crowd." If it's in a dictionary it must be right! Right? Not really.

First something needs to happen. The good 'ol cause and effect. Either Frank was looking at the crowd then noticed the man. Or he noticed the man and watched him move through the crowd.

Another one: As she grew older, she grew wiser about men. 

"As" is also used to indicate by comparison the way that something happens or is done: "Dress as if you had some pride in yourself." Also "as" is used to interject a comment relating to a statement: My plan didn't work out as I thought it would.

Can fill-in for "because" and "since:" As it is your bedtime, you have to put your toys away.

Can fill-in for "even though:" Try as he might, he couldn't stop sleeping with women.

A preposition to refer to a function or a character that something or someone has: The comic's death came as a shock to the world.

During the time of being: Max loved dogs growing up, as an adult he owned three Huskies.

And the list goes on! 

So from how I understand it, the example you give "the crowd cheered loudly at the same time when the runners pushed off" could be written one of two ways. 

That the crowd was already cheering before the runners pushed off and continued to cheer afterward. Or that the runners pushed off and the crowd cheered.

It's all about cause and effect. Something happens, now what was the effect? 

Like this. A man has a gun to a girl's head. Most people would write that as: She squeezed her eyes shut as he placed the gun to her head.

To me that's lacking. I'm a person who loves detail. 

He pressed the gun to her temple.

This was it. After everything she tried ... it was over. She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the end.

That seems better to me. As it was a rough example, it's not something I'd be 100% happy with.

Now it might only me, I don't know. Taking out "as" opens up room for description. Makes you think. Makes you put more effort into crafting a visual image for your readers about the world the characters are in, and the characters themselves. It adds a little extra something that I love about reading and writing. 
DaintyKitty Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Aaaaaah, I understand now :) So everything is a cause and effect yes? :D

Thank you for putting your time into answering my questions ^^ I'm sorry if it's a bother though ;o;

I really love reading and writing and wanted to see what tips I can use to make my writing better ;u; The 'as' tip though puzzled me ^^; But I hope to be an author someday ;u;

Again, thank you very much, even if you're not the original author of the tutorial :aww:
DreamSeeker13 Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2014
From the way I understand it, yes. 

It was no trouble at all, dear! I try to help out when I can. I wish someone had done the same for me when I first started writing, not criticizing my mistakes.

That's about all you can do. Want improvement? Then set out and seek the info, ingest, allow it to mix with what works for you, and see what happens.

Again. No worries. You're most welcome, dear.
DaintyKitty Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I see ^^ However, when the author said that the reader might get confused when they come across a sentence that has 2 actions and an 'as'. For me, it doesn't really effect my thinking, nor it confuse me. Then again, it's not the same for all readers, isn't it?

Aaaah, I see. Must be tough huh?

Okay, I will ^^ I'll just keep on experimenting.
Imiss2010 Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2014
What do you mean by , "all over impression?"
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