Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thursday with how Sentence Structure Impacts Characterization

Sentence structure can reveal tiny hints to your characters. Please note that below are generalizations which you can totally break, BUT there should be a reason if you make a lawyer talk in long, preposition filled sentences or a creative type talking with short brisk sentences.

Sentence Structure in Narration

  • Short Sentences: These are for characters who get straight to the point. No flowy language to make it sound pretty. These characters want to get right into what's import (less likely to give long paragraphs of dialogue) and are very sure of themselves (think lawyers, doctors, over achievers in school, New Yorkers)
    • Ex: "The meeting. Don't be late"
  • Long Sentences: These are for characters who like details. These characters use a lot of prepositions and adjectives. Conflict possibility: information tends to get lost in all the details in long sentences. Long sentences tend to be more flowy and pretty than short brisk sentences. Characters who use long sentences tend to have more to say (think teachers, writers trying to explain their novels ;), love interests professing their undying love) 
    • EX: "Please don't be late for the meeting on Thursday in lecture hall by the office at 3:45 where we will talk about our upcoming service projects like Habitat for Humanity and the food bank." 

Sentence Structure in Dialogue (these can be used SPARINGLY in narrative)

  • Sentences ending with a dash: These are for characters who get cut of in their thoughts. These characters tend think fast and don't care if others follow their train of thought. Conflict possibility: information tends to be forgotten with these fast thinkers. These characters also don't tend to go back and finish their thoughts (think aggressive drivers, gossipers) 
      • Ex: "I hate this song it just- It's called a gas pedal. Use it. You would think- What do you think you are doing. Idiot!"
  • Sentences ending in an exclamation point: These are for characters who are very passionate. Be cautious with exclamation points. I have read that some agents consider exclamation points as a sign of an amateur writer. Even though I am an amateur writer, I think exclamation points with a POINT (did you catch the pun) and used sparingly can be super beneficial for characterizing a character with having to say that they are passionate. While using an exclamation point every sentence to show a passionate character is okay, but the occasion point after a line that is beneficial to the plot makes the reader recognize that line is important not only to the character but to the plot as well. Characters who uses exclamation points want to bring the point across (think cheerleaders, people in a fight, writers after they get "The Call", Bill Nye)  
    • Ex: "Are you ready writers! Give me a W! Give me a R! Give me an I! Give me a T! Give me an E! Write! Write! Write!"
  • Sentences with italics: These are for characters who are like to put extra emphasis on their words (we all know the types of people I am talking about). Notice: which word these characters emphasize can drastically change the meaning of the sentence.  Very often these characters like to emphasize something in every sentences they say (think stereotypical preppy girls, and... okay I can't really think of any other group of people who talk like this). 
    • Ex: "I love these shoes. They are so cute. Why do they have to be so expensive?"
  • Sentences with ellipses: These are for characters who aren't quiet sure of themselves or space out a lot (like me). The two types of characters I mentioned are very different, so I'll start with characters not sure of themselves. These characters might make up information to make it seem like they understand (like me on free response questions in chemistry). The ellipses signals a hesitation which these characters use to think of what to say next. Ellipses are great to show characters in a right here and now situation where they must make something up on the spot (think the kid in the back of class who wasn't paying attention and gets called on, new boss tying to make people like them). On the other hand ellipses can be used for characters who space out (similar to dash characters). I space out a lot. If you are talking to me, I probably won't retain a word you said. I even do this for myself. In the middle of talking, I will space out and lose my train of thought (think creative types, constant thinkers, people really passionate about what they are talking about). 
    • Ex for characters who aren't sure of themselves: "Well isn't the... we talked about this the other day after the thing on electronegativity right... the atomic radius larger at the... *makes left and right fingers* left side of the periodic table towards the... *looks up at the ceiling* top of the periodic table. That can't be right... or is it? I remember talking about... it's in my notes... the atomic radius is largest at the bottom left hand corner? Is that right... or... I know this. I promise. I just... yeah, atomic radius is largest at the lower right hand corner. Final answer. Right?... We have bonus right?"

    • Ex for characters who space out: "I found the cutest... OMG I totally forgot my homework... *digs through back pack* what was I looking for again?"