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August 13, 2013

Chrys’ Writing Rules: Don’t Start Sentences With These Words!

The title of this post is misleading. I’m not really telling you not to start sentences with these words, because I start sentences with these words, every writer does. What I’m suggesting is that you limit how many times in a row you use them to start sentences.

I developed this rule after listening to editors and becoming conscious of my own writing, and decided it was a good thing to do for me. Do you have to follow it? Heck no! The only opinion that matters when it comes to your writing is your own. But I do encourage you to test it out, and maybe find your own limit.

Now here are the words:

HE/SHE: Using "he" or "she” to begin sentences is fine and normal, but using he/she so many times in a row can become redundant, a little annoying, and lazy. This is just my opinion as a reader and writer though. With my writing, I believe in beginning sentences in more ways than just with "she" to describe what is happening, or how my characters feel. Up to three uses is my limit now. I think three sentences in a row is a perfect cut of point, because it’s not excessive, and it still reads well. Can you write four sentences beginning with he/she? Sure! 

(This rule can also apply to the use of "I" at the beginning of sentences for first person.)

THEN: Now this is a word that you should know not to overuse. Beginning a sentence with “then” is great! And it is needed to create suspense, but using it to begin every other sentence is too much. With my own writing, I don’t even allow myself to use it more than once in a paragraph, and try to limit it to once per manuscript page. Instead, I find other clever ways to boost the suspense and action.

THE: I once heard an author say that beginning a sentence with “the” was a literary no-no. Well, I still begin sentences with “the”, and so do most best-selling authors. But ever since I heard that quote I have become more aware of it, and try not to do it often. If I see that I used “the” to begin a couple of sentences close together, I try to rewrite one of them. Do I always do this? No, I don't, because when I read the paragraph back through, it sounds great with back-to-back the's at the beginning of the sentences. But when "the" becomes obvious, that's when I put my thinking cap on.

QUESTION: Are there specific words that you limit the use of at the beginning of sentences?


Unknown said...

I totally agree with he/she at the beginning of the sentence (well, I guess the overuse of). It's so hard when you're writing in third person, though. But it's definitely something I need to work on.

Chrys Fey said...

It is hard when you're writing in third person, which is why I say three uses of he/she in a row is my limit. After that, my writer's mind has to get a little more creative. :)

Carol Apple said...

I never thought about not starting a sentence with "the." Interesting. But whatever I start my sentences with, I find it quite revealing to read my own prose aloud. That's when repetitive words and structure, or rhythm problems such as excessive choppiness become glaringly obvious. Of course, I need to follow my own advice and do this more often. Love your blog - good place to come for an inspirational push!

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you for your kind words, Carol! I had never thought about not starting a sentence with "the" either until I heard it from another writer. Of course, I thought it was bizarre, but then I noticed how I would repeat "the" in the beginning of some of my sentences, and how it would stand out. SO I decided it would be good (for me) to keep an eye out for this. Thanks for your comment!

Unknown said...

I've noticed that when I'm writing, sometimes I tend to overuse "I." It's only lately since I've been blogging a lot more. Like Carol said, reading aloud helps me tremendously. Even after I've re-read and edited my writing several times in my head, I've noticed the repetition in my usage of certain words. Great post! I'm going to try to not use "the" at the beginning of some of my sentences and see where that takes me.

Chrys Fey said...

Hello, Gina! And thank you for your comment! I don't write in first person as much, but I do notice that when I do, I still follow my little rule for not going beyond three sentences that begin with "I". (I'll add that to my post with he/she, so thanks for mentioning it!)

If it doesn't work out for you, then by all means keep putting "the" at the beginning of sentences. It's your (the writer's) choice in the end. :)

Jessica Vealitzek said...

I don't have any hard and fast rules, except to vary the words I use. That usually keeps me from overusing any one word (and then I don't have to remember any hard and fast rules!)

Chrys Fey said...

Varying words is a great tactic!

Your comment got me thinking, and I came up with a trick that writers can do if they struggle with repeating certain words . . . Keep a list of words that you can look at, so if you're tempted to overuse a specific word (such as a verb) you can quickly check your list of favorite synonyms to swap it out with. This idea can even be used for alternative words/phrases to begin sentences.

Thank you for your comment, Jessica!

J. Hill said...

I keep coming back to advice like this. When I first encountered the "soft rules" of writing I hated the idea that there was a right and wrong, so to speak. Then I re-read all my prose and saw why.

The best way I find to get rid of repetitive sentences now is to rearrange the offenders when I catch them. "He did this" becomes "While doing this, he..." or something along those lines. I'll never get it in the first draft, and neither will most others. Once I'm done fixing plot errors and pacing though, that's when I make a push for the little tweaks which can let a piece down.

Chrys Fey said...

Thank you for your comment, J! Whenever I encounter new rules that editors, authors, and agents pass along to help others, I think "Are they serious? That's outrageous! I don't have to do that!" But once my stubbornness goes away, I take a look at my manuscripts and realize, "Oh yes, I do!" I can see why those "rules" make sense. Then when I apply them to my manuscripts my writing becomes even better! And that's the point. :)

I also take care of all of these little tweaks after all of my major editing.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I once did a manuscript with all sorts of He and She starts because I was trying to avoid all "ing" words. There are so many parts to a good book, it can be daunting!

Chrys Fey said...

It really can be daunting. The trick is knowing when it's okay to break these "rules". I allow "ing" words to start sentences every now and then to change things up.