Autocrit · Novel Writing

Game Changing Writing Advice: Sentence Starters

A while ago I wrote a post asking you lovely bloggers for advice on how to stop using He, She, Character Name as sentence starters. I am so overwhelmed by the level of guidance and support I received from that post. To check out all the incredibly helpful comments click here

As promised, I’ve collated the information and have put together a brief list of the advice I received. These tips are game changers.

Use Deep POV – Anna Kaling Author

One sure way to avoid using too many pronouns is to write from a deep point of view. Rather than acting as a distant narrator, write as if you are feeling and seeing through the eyes and body of your character. Here is the brilliant example of this used by Anna Kaling in my comments section –

Shallow POV:

Jane listened to Andrew drone on about his day and wondered when she’d stopped loving him. She watched clouds float across her coffee as she stirred it. She hoped she didn’t look as bored as she felt.

Deep POV:

Andrew droned on about his day. When had she stopped loving him? Clouds floated across her coffee as she stirred it. Hopefully, she didn’t look as bored as she felt.

Start with -ing words (but not too often) – John

Another way to avoid starting with your character name or pronoun is to use an -ing word to describe what they are doing. A lot of you gave this as a handy technique, but there seems to be some controversy over this too. Make sure you don’t start with a verb too often because it can annoy the reader.

Cause and Effect – Fab Writings

Here is a brilliantly simple trick. Start with a cause and write the effect it has on your character. Here is the example Fab Writings gives in the comment –

Effect + cause = She sprang from the sofa, upon seeing a cockroach.
Cause + effect = The moment she saw a cockroach, she sprang from the sofa.

Start with an adverb – Brian Bixby

I’m a firm believer that adverbs should be sprinkled throughout your novel with caution and as a last resort. However, when you do choose to use them, why not start with an adverb at the beginning of your sentence and add some variety to your sentence starters?

Do not worry about this in your first draft – Jonah Bergan

Although it is good to be conscious of your common writing pitfalls when writing your first draft, it’s not something you should get bogged down with. Don’t go back and edit during your first draft. Write, write, write and edit later!

Autocrit advice – Robert Batton

Autocrit, which I have reviewed here, is a great tool. They also broach this subject in an article shared with me, VIA Robert. Have a look, it’s helpful.

The root of the problem – Yennaedo Balloo

Hints and guidance are fantastic, but sometimes the most helpful advice is to be shown why you struggle with a particular aspect of writing. If you start with too many pronouns, it is likely that you have a bais towards focusing on your characters and not other aspects of a novel, such as setting, description and action. If you find you are often starting sentences with pronouns, have a look at your work and see if you are neglecting description and setting.

This is the beauty of blogging, collective wisdom is so valuable! I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.

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30 thoughts on “Game Changing Writing Advice: Sentence Starters

  1. This is a really useful post, and I would add just one comment (aside from thanking you for the shoutout). When I say start with an -ing word, you can merge it with your cause and effect feedback as they go well together, such as “Springing from the sofa she…” The cockroach one doesn’t quite work for my example, however it is my observation that a verb, the -ing word, to describe effect can often precede cause giving an active, rather than passive, sentence

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  2. This is something I’ve been dealing with while writing my new book. I’m 30,000 words in and I feel like 20,000 of those are ‘he’ ‘she’ and character names. I’m not worrying about it until the rewrite though, don’t want anything slowing me down during the first draft.

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  3. Thank you for sharing! I actually just finished reading a book where I would say about 90% of the sentences started with a noun. Within a paragraph, one particular character’s name is used as the beginning of each sentence in that paragraph! It’s too much and it makes the writing dull. So, this is a very good point!

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    1. Oh dear, that doesn’t sound like a fun read! If you noticed it that was a real shame, because it takes away from the story. I always think that good writing is made apparent by the way you don’t notice it at all 🙂

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  4. In the POV example, you still started the sentence with a character name 😛 One thing I like to do to give my sentences a bit of variety, especially when starting new paragraphs, is to bring together two different actions. Something like “As the bitter wind nipped at her ears, Carrie pondered her next step.” Also staring with gerunds or adverbials can break up sentence repetition. I do think you should be thinking about these things even when writing the first draft.

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  5. Great post, and I like they way you’ve put together a lot of different perspectives and advice into one place. I used to struggle with the ‘ING thing’ so to speak and my rule of thumb is to always consider the verb as something which is definitely done the whole sentence. i.e. “Smiling, I opened the door.” not “Jumping, I opened the door” (the latter which implies I jumped the whole way over and during opening the door, or maybe just one massive jump)

    Hope you do lots more posts like this in the future

    Liked by 1 person

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