At the beginning of each semester, a fair number of my student writers relied on “The Sloppy Seven” sentence starters. In any given paragraph, most of their sentences began with The, I, He, She, They, We, As, or It. Each student had his or her favorites. Dave (name changed) started three out of five sentences in one essay with The. Ellie (name changed) started four out of six with I. So the students could see, at a glance, how frequently they used them, I highlighted the words they repeated.
For example: My niece is passionate about horses. She loves to brush them and braid their manes and tails. She doesn’t even complain about mucking out the stalls. She takes lessons twice a week and goes to competitions. My sister pays the bills, so she hopes my niece outgrows this hobby. I bet someday she’ll be buying a horse.
Writing ain’t easy–even if you love it. But at least you usually know whether you’re doing something well or not. One thing, though, might be slipping beneath your radar. If you don’t pay attention, it’s guaranteed to make your writing fail. See if you can figure it out before it’s too late. Here’s an example:
He wrote some lovely sentences. Those words sing clever news. I do hope that you read ’em all. They’re stuffed with everything!
Would you continue to read WowPow if I wrote like this? (Rhetorical question!) Did you notice how sing-song-y it sounded? But what exactly is wrong with the writing that makes it fail? Can you figure it out if I break apart the paragraph like this—?
He wrote some lovely sentences.
Those words sing clever news. I do hope that you read ’em all. They’re stuffed with everything!
Now the problem becomes evident—the sentences are all the same length. This gives them a regular, bouncy rhythm, not unlike The Cat in the Hat[Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss!] or “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Delightful when you’re a toddler, like my granddaughter, but not so endearing, otherwise. Now, I’ve created this extreme example as an illustration, but you’d be surprised how many writers unwittingly think in measured ideas. They might sail “in and out of weeks, and almost over a year” [Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are], have aminotaurat the center and be full of ten-dollar words, but if those sentences are all the same length—epic rhythm fail. [You make your own joke here.]