Thursday, February 17, 2011

Are You Dobbin-Driven?

You know Dobbin, the faithful, plodding farm horse. That’s how my sentences tend to be. Dull, plodding, the same-o, same-o type of declarative sentences. Yawn. Sure, using strong verbs and vivid nouns help, but … only minimally. I need a fairy godmother to wave her magic wand and convert ol’ Dob into a prancing steed that gets me to the ball.

Alas, doubts about the existence of fairy godmothers for authors have begun to plague me. No wands are waving in my direction, anyway, even with trails of chocolate laid out to my keyboard. With this blog due, I finally resorted to the pain of research. Here’s a simple summary of my gain:

1.     Add a participial phrase (a present or past participle and its tagalongs):                                            

The women sobbed. à The women sobbed, covering their faces with tear-soaked fingers. Or à The women sobbed, wrenched by the calls of their dying children.

2.     Add an appositive (a noun and its tagalongs that renames another noun):                          

The women sobbed. à The women, puny wisps of flesh among the fallen bodies, sobbed.

3.     Add an absolute phrase (a description that moves from the whole to one or more of its parts):                                                                                                                                                  

The women sobbed. à The women, their cries rising to heaven, sobbed.

4.     Add a prepositional phrase

The women sobbed. à The women of the ransacked village sobbed.

5.     Add an adverb clause (a dependent sentence used as an adverb):                                                        

The women sobbed. à The women sobbed because their loss was irreplaceable.

6.     Add an adjective clause (a dependent sentence used as an adjective):                                        

The women sobbed. à The women, who’d known only kindness from their masters’ hands, sobbed.

Swap the positions of the phrases and clauses around. Mix two or three together in one sentence. Toss several in the air so they come down as compound and complex sentences. There’s much more one can do to build scintillating sentences, but these are a good start for transforming poor, dull Dobbin.

 How about you? Do you have suggestions that would help get the giddy-up going? 


  1. Years ago, someone in a critique group pointed out that I always started my sentences with a noun (usually, but not always, followed by a verb). Now I make sure to change it up sometimes, maybe like this: "Sobbing, the women covered their faces with tear-soaked fingers."

  2. Michelle WeidenbennerFebruary 18, 2011 at 9:55 AM

    I loved this creative blog. Well done. It was easy to read and taught me something. Thanks.

  3. Thanks, Kathryn and Michelle! :-D