top of page

Crucial Elements of Sentence Structure

Drafting excellent and succinct sentences for a fiction novel takes some practice. Though a sentence may appear grammatically correct, there is usually room for improvement. As you may have read in other articles from Wordy, most sentences can be trimmed by purging busy words, weak words, redundancy, and cliché’s. Scrapping generalities and replacing with specifics is another way to improve a sentence.

Grammatically correct sentences don’t always fully express the writer’s intent. Sentences can usually be rewritten concisely and with better word choices. With the addition of sensory details and the added show, don’t tell approach your sentences will shine. Your job as an author is to hook readers, lead them to turn the page, and keep turning. This is difficult to teach so the best way to illustrate this is through examples, accompanied by explanations.

Sentence 1

The model put on her shoes then took a minute to straighten out her dress. When it was her turn, she walked onto the runway. The smell of alcohol was still on her breath. (3 sentences and 34 words)

The sentences above are wordy, no pun intended. They are boring and contain busy, unnecessary words, and generalities. Put is a boring word choice and weak verb. The reader is not privy to who the model is, and she is non-specific so it’s difficult to properly connect. When it was her turn is redundant. Readers are smart enough to know that when she walks onto the runway, it is her turn so those words are not necessary. The word out after the word straighten is unnecessary. Straighten is sufficient on its own. We don’t need to know that the character took a minute to straighten her dress. Getting directly into the action is more effective.

The passage does appeal to the reader’s sense of smell and gives a vague overall description, but I think it can be improved.

Read the upgraded sentence below that is enriched with descriptive details.

Jasmine slipped into stilettos, straightened her oyster cocktail dress, and pranced onto the runway, the stale scent of tequila still on her breath. (1 sentence and 23 words)

As you can see, I have trimmed the sentences above by 11 words and have incorporated the details into one sentence instead of three.

The amended sentence packs a punch. It opens in action with the character’s name followed by three precise verbs, specific and sensory details:

Name - Jasmine

Verbs- slipped, straightened, pranced

Specific Details - slipped into stilettos (instead of put on her shoes)

oyster cocktail dress (instead of dress)

Sensory Details - the scent of stale tequila

Readers are transported into the scene and glean an immediate sense of the main character: what Jasmine is doing, how she walks the runway, what she’s wearing, and even how she smells. Without directly stating the character’s job, the reader ascertains through details and action that she’s a model, presumably beautiful, and confident if she’s prancing down the runway.

The scent of stale tequila shows the reader that Jasmine must have been drinking some time ago. But, why the stale scent of tequila? Perhaps the night before was rough and she’s hungover or she had been day drinking earlier, but why? Is she under stress being a model or has she encountered outside stress?

Is she a beauty who lacks confidence? Is that why she drinks? Maybe she’s someone who pushes her feelings away to get on with her job. Enough questions surface to steer the reader in the direction of desiring answers. This opening sentence makes the reader want to read more to find out about Jasmine and her life.

Sentence 2

Cody walked to the barn. He opened the door and went inside. Upon stepping in, he smelled a combination of manure and hay. He decided to ride his horse, so he saddled the horse up. He was a loner and didn’t have any friends. (5 sentences and 44 words)

Again, the sentences above are filled with too many words. They tell the reader instead of showing the reader and they convey very little. We don’t need to know every detail about how Cody opens the barn door, goes inside, and once he does, he smells a combo of manure and hay. The fact that he decides to ride his horse can be communicated without telling the reader that he decides to ride his horse. In other words, start in action. Show the reader what Cody does. This will adequately express the meaning. The reader is also told that Cody is a loner with no friends. Show this instead through emotion and action.

Read the upgraded sentence below that is enriched with descriptive details yet more concise. It is a good example of showing not telling.

The aroma of manure and hay hit Cody in the face when he opened the barn door to saddle up Jax, the black mustang, his only friend. (1 sentence and 27 words)

In the upgraded example I shaved 17 words and 4 sentences, yet the new sentence is more descriptive.

This opening sentence takes the reader straight to the barn by using the sense of smell and details to create the environment instead of directly stating the setting where Cody intends to go. It shows the reader, through action, what Cody is doing, and the reader infers the rest. It doesn’t tell the reader by way of a list that Cody walked to the barn then opened the door then smelled manure and hay then decided to saddle up his horse. All of that is cumbersome and boring.

By the way, in the first passage, his horse has no name or specific type. Adding those details helps readers connect with the passage.

In the revised sentence, the reader infers that Cody is lonely and bonded to his horse without telling the reader that Cody is a loner. The question begging to be answered is why? Is Cody bullied in school? Why is Jax his only friend? In order to find out, one must read on. The sentence sets up an implied problem and leads the reader to care about Cody.

Sentence 3

A group of unkind students from the middle school surrounded another student at the lockers. They wanted to taunt the other student. The mean students smelled like hairspray and perfume. The victim got mad and slammed the locker closed. The victim turned around to face the bullies. (5 sentences and 47 words)

Yikes, except for the hairspray and perfume, this passage is overlong and non-descript. It lacks specifics and the entire piece is uninspiring. The words student and victim are general and overused.

In the reconstructed passage below I pared it down to 2 sentences and clipped 15 words.

The mean-girl squad of North Middle School surrounded Kate. Hairspray and spicy perfume tickled her nose, seconds before the bullying kicked in. She slammed her locker closed and spun to face them. (3 sentences and 32 words)

In one quick opening sentence the reader obtains an instant vision of tween mean girls instigating trouble and we immediately connect with Kate because she is named. We know the specific setting because the school has a name too. Because of the specifics, this revised scene might take the reader back to a time when they were bullied. The writer categorizes the students into a mean-girl squad which is more specific than the dull, unkind students. Unkind is a weak word in this scenario.

The reader receives a lot of information in the sentences that follow. The smell of hairspray and perfume paints a possible picture of shallow character. The aroma tickles Kate's nose for an added sensory detail of touch. They surround Kate, who slams her locker, depicting irritation without telling the reader she is angry. The reader can imagine the sound the locker makes when it’s slammed, adding the sense of hearing. In the revised version, the reader is shown instead of told that Kate is at her locker. She spins to face them which portrays courage. Readers glean that perhaps this isn’t Kate’s first encounter with this group. The sentence opens in action, sets up conflict, and creates a solid sense of place. We want to find out what happens next.


Write in action

Use action verbs instead of weak verbs

Incorporate specific words instead of generalities

Use the character’s name to help readers connect to them and the story

Use sensory details

Include specific details

Avoid listing what the character is doing

Keep it simple

Less is more - trim, trim, and keep on trimming

Show Don’t Tell - Telling can be part of the story when appropriate but try to stick to showing.

Avoid cliché’s

Scrap redundancy

Check for overused words

Keep it interesting - readers get bored with lackluster sentences


Hi. I'm Liz Ambrico, freelance proofreader and aspiring author. I too am querying agents, editors, and publishers in hopes of becoming a published author.



Wordy is the get-in-the-know hotspot for writers. From grammar to publishing find info, tips, and inspiration to take your WIP (Work In Progress) to the next level.


Screen Shot 2019-09-26 at 8.33.52 PM.png

I co-founded and managed a successful author and writer group on Long Island for five years. During events with publishers and authors I learned what matters, what agents are looking for, and the benefits and pitfalls of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing.

I've gained a lot of tips and tidings on my writing journey and want to share what I know.

Besides my passion for writing, I'm a fitness enthusiast, and I love coffee, chocolate, and animals. I'm mom to two amazing young men, and I live on Long Island with my husband, four zany cats, and the sweetest dog ever.

Whether you're new to writing, ready to query, or about to submit your manuscript,  welcome, you've come to the right place.

About Me


Alyssa is Wordy's website administrator and tech guru. She holds a degree in Communication and has always enjoyed writing and marketing, both of which are highly useful skills for aspiring authors. 

Email Icon.png
bottom of page