Every sentence must logically follow its preceding sentence, as every clause, paragraph, scene and chapter should logically flow from its preceding construct. Each should cascade like sparkling ice-melt down a crevasse, connected to the last shelf by an overhang.
Here are some guidelines I recommend for maintaining flow.
1. Every clause within a sentence must tightly couple—period.
2. One topic per sentence—period.
3. One topic per paragraph—period.
4. One topic per dialog—interrupt with direction if the character must wander.
5. Everything (topics, descriptions, actions, emotions, directions, tags…) must smoothly transition to the next, or you create a blind step for your reader to stumble over.
6. If a sentence hangs alone—it probably doesn't belong in the scene or passage, or you've understated/under explained, or told instead of showed.
7. If element A flows to B, then returns to A—RW, pushing B behind the last clause of A.
8. Description works best in longer sentences—back-to-back descriptive sentences gag the reader.
9. Action works best in shorter sentences—don't confuse rising tension with action.
10. Three staccato action sentences are platinum. Four is gold. Five is tarnished pewter.
11. Descriptives must couple with action—unless you're going for irony.-R. Mac Wheeler
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Tip Tuesday #71
R. Mac Wheeler. Please visit his blog (where you will find cute dogs, book reviews, and writing advice!) after you've finished reading his tip on sentence flow below.
Posted by Casey McCormick on Tuesday, January 11, 2011