RedPen Editing
Variety for a start

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Variety in your writing can hold a reader’s attention.

We already looked at how varying sentence length can be effective. This time, let’s look at how you start each sentence.

If you use the same structure for each sentence, and start each one in the same way, your reader could soon become bored.

The solution? Introduce variety!

Sentence startsMany sentences begin with the subject as a noun, pronoun or proper noun:

  • A noun introduced by the definite article: The door opens.
  • A noun introduced by the indefinite article: A man appears. An angel hovers above him.
  • As a noun: Music fills the room.
  • As a proper noun: Harry watches me.
  • As a pronoun: I look the other way. It is too painful to meet his eyes. He turns away. We continue to pretend we can hear nothing.
  • Preceded by an adjective: Sad memories flood my brain.

Sentences can start with the verb: ‘Tell me your name.’ or a gerund (the -ing form of a verb which makes a noun): ‘Ignoring me won’t make me disappear.’

More complex sentences have a phrase or a clause ahead of the main part of the sentence.

  • Adverbs modify the verbs and supply information about ‘how’, ‘when’ and ‘where’: Slowly, the man walks towards us. Eventually, he stops.
  • Prepositions can also appear at the start of a sentence: In the doorway, the angel remains on guard.
  • Conjunctions might also be used to start a sentence: And all the while, the music plays on. But Harry and I say nothing.

Varying the structure of your sentences, and being careful to start them in different ways can result in a good read.

However, using the same structure can also be effective. In ‘The Book of You’, some sections are written in the first person and, within these sections, many sentences necessarily start with ‘I …’ . This serves to emphasise the emotional situation of Clarissa. In an entry dated Monday 2 February, the author, Claire Kendal, has three consecutive sentences all starting ‘I am trying …’ . Clarissa is trying very hard, and struggling!

Your turn!

Look at writing you admire and focus on how sentences start. Is there variety?

Consider your own text and think about how you might edit it to introduce more variety, or less variety – to better effect.