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Sentences—if the plot is the backbone of a story, then sentences are the muscles and tendons keeping it glued together. Unfortunately, writing solid sentences isn’t easy for everyone. As Human beings, we don’t speak the same way we write. Unless you do a lot of writing, you may have trouble putting together even the simplest of sentences. The last time you took a good look at a sentence and broke it down into its individual parts was probably around 3rd grade. Don’t worry—I’m here to help.

There’s More Than One Type of Sentence

There are (roughly) four different types of sentences, and we’re going to get into each of the different types (with examples!).

Simple Sentences – This is a sentence in its truest form. A simple sentence is the statement of a single idea in a direct, clear way. Most simple sentences contain less than 20 words, but it is best if you keep your word count average below 12 WPS (words per sentence). Longer sentences are possible, but the longer the sentence is, the harder it is to follow. Example: My coffee cup is blue.

Complex SentencesA complex sentence is a simple sentence with one or two dependent clauses added on to expand or clarify what is being said. The first half of the complex sentence is actually a simple sentence in disguise, where the second half of the sentence is the dependent clause. Complex sentences are still limited to a single idea. Be careful of these—it’s easy to go overboard and add in redundancies and needless explanations that will weaken your writing. Try not to exceed 20 words. Example: My coffee cup is blue, which is also my favorite color.

Compound Sentences – Compound sentences are sentences made out of more than one idea that could otherwise have been separate simple sentences.  Try not to let compound sentences exceed 25 words. Example: My coffee cup is blue, and my desk is black.

Convoluted Sentences – Convoluted sentences are sentences that ramble on far longer than they need to. They often consist of several simple sentences connected with excessive explanation and asides. For the most part, you want to avoid these at all costs. Example: My coffee cup is blue, which is also my favorite color, and sits atop my desk, which  is black, right next to an empty can of Ginger Ale, which I’ve been drinking all day because my allergies make me nauseous.

Parts of Speech are the Building Blocks of Sentences

As the section title says: Parts of speech are the building blocks of sentences. Every sentence we construct can be broken down into smaller bits and pieces that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. We’re going to take a look at the different parts of speech and how they fit together to form a complete sentence.

Adjectives – These are words that describe nouns and pronouns. They tell us things like color, height, weight, number, etc.

Adverbs – These describe verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They tell us when, where, how, and to what extent.

Conjunctions – These are connector words that show how different things are related. Some conjunctions are: And, But, Yet, And, Because.

Interjections – These are words that show strong emotion such as Oh, Wow, Hey, etc.

Nouns – These are the names of people, places, or things.

Prepositions – These link nouns or the pronouns following them to other words in sentences. Example: To, By, Over, In, and From.

Pronouns – These are words used in place of a noun (or other pronoun) such as: I, You, We, They.

Verbs – These are words that represent actions or states of being. Some examples are: Jump, Run, Swim, Hire, Fly, To Be.

Now, I could go on for ages about how the different parts of speech are constructed into phrases—of which there are 8 different types. I could explain things like participles, appositives, and gerunds… but I’m not going to. You don’t want to spend the next week sitting here having simple sentence construction explained to you (Maybe I’ll get into that someday, but certainly not now). Instead, we’re going to move on to something more useful (and far less confusing). The main point I had in bringing up the parts of speech is this: You should know what these are. I’m going to mention them throughout this article, and I don’t want you to be confused. Use it as a cheat-sheet if you must.

Get To The Point

When you write, you want to get to the point of your sentence quickly. The longer you meander around the point of a sentence, the harder it becomes to understand that sentence. We call these meandering sentences wordy. Not all high word-count sentences are wordy, but all wordy sentences have a high word count. Sentences become wordy when they contain too much padding; this padding can consist of an abundance of adjectives and adverbs, but can also be convoluted. We want to avoid this. Let me give you a few examples:

When you write, you generally want to get to the point of your sentence as quickly as possible because the longer your sentence is, the harder it becomes to understand the meaning behind that sentence.

Obviously, this is a pretty convoluted and wordy sentence. Let’s trim it down:

When you write, you want to get to the point quickly. The longer your sentence is, the harder it is to understand.

The second set of sentences are much more concise, and easier to follow.

Wordy, or convoluted sentences make your writing weak and slow down the pace. Shorter, simple sentences not only increase the pace of your writing, but are more engaging. When writing a novel, concise, clear writing is always preferred over wordy, convoluted writing. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Cut out the filler words. Words like: seem, generally, basically, simply, quite, kind of, really, very, etc. are junk words. They rarely add any meaning to your sentences, but do serve to slow the pace.  
    • Make sure your sentences get to the point in the most direct manner possible. You can always pad a sentence later if the sentence seems too abrupt and messes with the flow of your writing.  
      • Try to keep your sentences below 20 words long. Most sentences average 15 words in length. That doesn’t mean you can’t have longer sentences, but keep it in mind that the longer your sentence goes on, the harder it is to understand.  
        • Use proper punctuation (We’ll get to that in another article) to help separate sentences into single ideas, or to join two ideas together. Don’t link more than two ideas together. Ever.  
          • Keep 90% of your sentences Active and not Passive. (we’ll get into that below). Passive sentences have their place, but most of your sentences should be active.  
            • Don’t use fragments.

Let’s explore a little more.

Fragments

You should know the difference between a complete sentence and a fragment, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t. Complete sentences should have: A Subject (Noun/Pronoun), a Predicate (Verb/Verb Phrase), and should express a complete thought. Example:

My coffee mug is blue.

I think cats are adorable.

A fragment, on the other hand, is an incomplete sentence (usually because a word has been left out):

Coffee mug is blue.

I think are adorable.

Go ahead and laugh, it seems absurd, but a lot of authors try to pass off these fragments off as real sentences. Don’t do it. Fragment sentences don’t make sense.

Vary Your Sentences

Your sentences shouldn’t all be one length. If they are, you writing will feel monotonous. Please don’t do it if you can avoid it. Please, I’m begging you.  See what I did there?

Seriously though,  You should vary your sentences not only in length, but also construction. It helps to keep the flow of your writing fluid and interesting, rather than monotonous and boring. This doesn’t take a whole lot of thought if you do this one thing:  read your writing out loud. Let me explain:

As a writer, you’ve probably read over your own work a multitude of times. Not only that, but because you wrote it, your brain has built itself the ability to fill in the gaps in your writing. You can misspell things, forget punctuation, even forget words, and you may not notice it. Your brain will skim over these gaps as if they didn’t exist and move on—because it knows what you intended. Reading your writing out loud bypasses this built in knowledge of intent. As you read out loud, your brain has to route the information not only through your eyes to your brain, but then from your brain to your mouth. It makes it easier to find mistakes and I highly recommend that you read all of your writing out loud whenever you can. If you’re a brave person, read it out loud while someone’s in the room—hilarity may ensue, but your audience may be able to point out even more mistakes.

Keep in mind: Sentence length, whether short or long, can be used as a tool to change not only the pace of your writing, but can help draw attention to important points. Shorter sentences drive up the tension in a paragraph, whereas longer sentences tend to mellow things out.

Passive vs. Active

Let’s start with some examples:

  • Slamming into every shoreline on Earth, the tsunami hit.  
    • Most of the current population had been wiped out by the survivors or by the larger packs of dogs as they scuffled over territories.  
      • I never knew when I’d be forced to hole up in the base for several days at a time, and it paid to be prepared.

These are passive sentences. Passive sentences follow a construction where the action is performed upon the subject.. Active sentences on the other hand, are the opposite. They follow a construction where the subject performs an action. Let’s make the above examples active.

  • The tsunami slammed into every shoreline on Earth.  
    • Survivor, and the larger packs of dogs scuffled over territory, and had wiped out most of the current population.  
      • It paid to be prepared, and I often holed up in the base for several days at a time.

See the difference? Not only are passive sentences harder to follow, but they’re usually longer. Most of the time, it’s better to keep your writing active. This doesn’t mean, however, that passive sentences should never be used. Sometimes sentences have to be passive. They may sound better as passive, or sometimes you may want to use passive voice to help avoid placing blame. As long as you keep in mind that you should try to stay active as much as you can, and use passive as a tool—not a default setting—you should be okay.

Expletive Constructions and How They Make Your Sentences Flabby

Expletive Constructions are:

  • It is  
    • It was  
      • There is  
        • There are  
          • There were

…at the beginning of a sentence, before the subject. They are used to fill the hole left behind when an author tries to switch subject-verb word order. You don’t need them. Example:

  • It was then that I noticed the little bird.  
    • I noticed the little bird.

Another example:

  • There were three children lined up in a row.  
    • Three children stood in a row.

A little re-wording can help clear things up with minimal effort, and your writing will be stronger for it. The only purpose an expletive construction serves is to delay the point of your sentence.

Say Exactly What You Mean, Not The Next Best Thing

Another thing you can do to make sure your sentences are strong, is to make sure you pick the best words possible to convey what you mean—not the next best thing. Here’s some examples:

  • Green / Olive  
    • Went / Drove  
      • Walked / Paced  
        • Looked / Stared

Words have slightly (and sometimes vastly) different meanings—a flavor if you will. Try to avoid bland words (such as went, walked, looked) and find words more specific to your meaning.

Now, for a bit of fun… let’s put this all into context

I’m throwing myself under the bus—yet again—for the sake of a writing tutorial/advice article. Below is a paragraph or two out of the first draft of one of my novels. Take a look, and then we’ll shred it… because all first drafts suck, and we need to see some edits in action.

I grit my teeth and lifted a foot to take a step forward. The raw flesh of my feet stuck to the floor as I lifted it, and blood smeared along the stone as I walked with slow steps towards the far side of the room, no longer attempting to hide the pain. I slid my feet along the floor in an uneven gait, holding my breath with each step.  

Sweat trickled down the back of my neck, and I winced as I sat gingerly on the short rock-wall that enclosed the pool. My eyes stung with unshed tears as I lifted my legs over the rock wall, sinking them into the cool pool of water. The water turned black around my feet in the moonlight – clouded with blood and mud. It was freezing cold, but I welcomed the numbness. With trembling fingers I began to wash the grime from my body.

Note the redundancies, stiff sentence structure, and the unneeded word additions. Let’s clean it up:

I grit my teeth as I stepped forward; raw flesh sucked at the hard stone, smearing blood in my wake. I shuffled with an uneven gait, and drew in a pained breath with each burning slide forward.  

Sweat trickled down the back of my neck, and I winced as I lowered myself onto the short rock-wall that enclosed the pool. With my siblings out of sight, I no longer had to act brave. I’d held it together for the last two days, and here—at last—there was no one left to witness my pain.  

With a whimper, I lifted my legs over the rock-wall, relieved to sink them into the cool waters. The pool turned black around my feet, clouded with blood and dirt. I welcomed the numbness of the freezing water, and with trembling fingers, I began to wash the grime from my body. This nightmare wouldn’t be over until I was clean.

I snipped a little here, reworded things there… moved things around, and even added new bits in. It ended up being a little longer overall, but take note of the change in tension.

In Closing…

Though there’s a lot more than just this to writing well, and my opinion is by far not the only (nor most knowledgeable) opinion out there… I hope this article served to help clue you in on a few ways you can improve your writing and construct strong, clean sentences.

This is an article I put together today for my Wordpress blog (Author Unpublished)--I figured I'd share it. I apologize for any formatting errors caused by copy/pasting it here -_- Those lists are a pain. Enjoy.
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Daily Deviation

Given 2014-04-11
Writer's Tip: Writing Effective Sentences by DarlingMionette is a well rounded, informative guide to not only grammar but also how to keep your prose writing fresh and appealing for your reader. ( Featured by inknalcohol )
:iconjosephblakeparker:
JosephBlakeParker Featured By Owner 3 days ago  Professional Writer
A very concise and well-formatted resource. Excellently written!
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner 3 days ago  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you :D
Reply
:iconshinigamimiroku:
ShinigamiMiroku Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Awesome work! I'm definitely going to use this to improve my own work. ^_^
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Nov 28, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
<3
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:iconreflex76:
REFLEX76 Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014
Good stuff
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:iconlotus-pen:
Lotus-Pen Featured By Owner Sep 7, 2014  Student Writer
Good guide. This has recently been added to the faves in Nurturing-Narratives a group I admin. I hope the members will also see this and take heed! 
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:iconalphabetsoup314:
alphabetsoup314 Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I think sentence fragments can still be used in prose effectively. It can help convey a speaker's voice (if there is a voice). Like this:

Me? Puny? Bah. Bunch of idiots. 

Or to help emphasize and/or keep a good variation in sentence length. Like this: 

Heat. Sweltering heat. 
That was the fist thing that Johnny noticed when he woke up. 


But, I'm more of a poet, I don't really write much prose, so maybe I don't quite get the intricacies of sentence construction :shrug:
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:iconrunspotrun:
runspotrun Featured By Owner Edited Aug 26, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I agree. I sometimes enjoy the usage of fragments, because it seems like the author is writing exactly how they think. It tends to feel more raw, and it's extremely useful in memoirs (especially more traumatic ones) or in high-tension situations. However, I also think it's a dangerous method which must be done carefully, or the writing will just sound silly. Both sides of the argument definitely have value. (:

Oh, and btw, this is a wonderful tutorial! I've read a bunch of your others, too, including the drawing/painting ones, and I've found them all incredibly helpful! Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us. It's impressive that you're this talented in so many different areas of art.
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:iconeuxiom:
Euxiom Featured By Owner May 4, 2014
Very nice tutorial! :D
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner May 12, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
thank you :)
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:iconbornwiththesun:
BornWithTheSun Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
This helped! Thanks! :)
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
welcome :D
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:iconcronoan:
Cronoan Featured By Owner Apr 22, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Oh, thank you for putting this together. I've been reading my boyfriend's first story draft, and I could NOT figure out why it feels so dull when his sentences are perfectly structured. His word usage is specific and varied, and he doesn't run on. But thanks to you, I can tell him what the issue is. All his sentences are the same length! Hurrah! So it reads super dull even though the language and environment are excellent. You are my hero.
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
XD you are so very welcome, i'm glad it proved useful :)
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:iconcronoan:
Cronoan Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Every tutorial you do is excellent and SUCCINCT. Keep em coming! :D
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:iconscathachlongmane:
ScathachLongmane Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
P.S.  Congratulations on the well-deserved DD!
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
thank you :D
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:iconscathachlongmane:
ScathachLongmane Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I love this tutorial on sentence writing.  Very handy  :-)  I will be referring to this one frequently.
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
:D thanks!
Reply
:iconaurora-celest:
aurora-celest Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014
This tutorial was extremely informative and I'll definitely re-read this later. Thanks for the vocabulary list and their definitions. A lot of my English teachers either assumed that I knew what those words meant, or gave long, convoluted explanations of those terms, often confusing me more. Your guide helped me to understand basic fundamentals that I needed to know. 

Do you plan on writing an article on punctuation? I know punctuation can seem nitpicky, but there are so many times when I read excellent content that winds up butchered by the writer's grammatical ignorance.
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
actually, i do plan to write a punctuation article - someone asked for it already XD so hopefully that'll be in the works once my broken pinky heals up -_- typing long drafts seems painful lol.
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:iconbeltaneh:
Beltaneh Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014
Thank you for this! And congrats on the DD
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
welcome, and thank you!
Reply
:iconredemmo:
Redemmo Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014
I should be in bed right now, so I'm not reading this, but I've fav'd it for later perusal!
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
haha well thank you :) I hope you got some good rest!
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:iconsilvery-storm:
Silvery-Storm Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014
This was great :D As a writer I've seen my writing improve in only a few years, from being childish to something that is constantly evolving and taking inspiration from everything I see and read. Quite a lot of the things you mentioned I've said to people before, especially about sentence lengths. But I really like how you broke down sentence structure so effectively in your article; it really does help to have a grasp of language when you're writing. Thanks for taking the time out to write this :)
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
you are so very welcome, thank you for commenting!
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:iconmidoriiblue:
MidoriiBlue Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Oh man this is a gorgeous little gem!  Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge in such a useful format!  You are lovely!! :love:
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
XD thank you!
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:iconbackup12051997:
backup12051997 Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014
thanks. any advice for songfic?
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
I'm actually not sure I know what songfic is.. can you explain?
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:iconbackup12051997:
backup12051997 Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2014
Song fic is like a regular fanfic, but with song lyric between the paragraph(or you don't need the paragraph if you thought the naration itself is enough to give clue what part of lyric the author refers)

Example:
but I don't know how to leave you
And I never let you fall


I will always stay, because I always want to protect him, to comfort him.
Also, I will always assist him, and I not want him fall

and I don't know how you do it
making love out of nothing at all


I wonder why Toothless give his love, his trust to me.
Despite that, he still my best friend(I more like it if he loves me back)


or if you still confused, check www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&… ; A Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic that I use to learn how to write a songfic.

NB: I planed to create a songfic related to friendship between Hiccup and his Night fury, Toothless. However, I not yet make it because I distracted by Internet(and also distract me from my studying)
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Interesting! I've never heard of songfic before now - I'm afraid I can't give much advice on it, you apparently know more than I do about it :D
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:iconbackup12051997:
backup12051997 Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2014
probably I ask the comments.deviantart.com/1/4462… because I am not confident when I type the comment. Probably becauase I am self conscious of myself of how I at times either too long winded or screw up something.

At least you more confident at writing than me. In addition, I not write that often despite I often read writing(I nervous on writing, even typing comments like what I do right now)

No wonders you never heard of songfic. You more of 'abstract original artist'(knows better more general words/arrangement?) and it is as if writing is your hobby(or activity done in spare time, etc)

NB: took me few minutes longer to compose this comment.
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:iconchameleonist:
Chameleonist Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
O lands... I love it. I studied sentence structure, grammar and all that 'fun stuff' in every single grade, including the year I'm in now. I skipped practically the whole thing because I already knew it. I think the only thing I learned new from this was "passive vs. active" and still I loved it all. I'm a writer myself, and I love words in general, but I also know how hard it can be to write effectively. I come across so many people who want to write stories, but they just CAN'T; they don't understand the basics of words and sentences, and choosing the right way to present things.

This essay is very much deserving of a DD, and I want to thank for teaching me at least one thing new. ^^
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
aww thank you for being so kind--and you're very welcome. Take it from me, spending the last few years as a professional reader.... i have no doubt there are a ton of authors out there that don't know the first thing about stringing together a sentence. It's so painful to read sometimes!
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:iconchameleonist:
Chameleonist Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
Gah, seriously... I have a few friends on here who are amazing at coming up with stories or creating new worlds, but when they try to present it in story form, they fail. And then there are the ones who are just too shy, or don't have anything to present, but they can write so well! I love being one of the few people I know who embodies the best of both; I have ideas, stories, characters, even entire worlds in my head, and as a result of years of studying, can adequately present them.

Heheh! I'm actually in the process of writing over two dozen different stories, one of which I'm hoping to publish. I've had many different people read various portions of this story or that, and so far, the only problems I've been told of are mild grammatical errors; missing a period, using 'there' instead of 'they're,' and so on.
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
that's pretty great if those are the only negative comments you get! trust me, if  that's the case, all you're going to need is a good editor to double check things before you publish :) sadly there are a lot of new authors out there that can't even put a sentence together--and it is painful to read through their stuff.
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:iconchameleonist:
Chameleonist Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014  Hobbyist Artist
Totally agreed. I read one book not too long ago that I had to stop reading; it was too horribly written! I still haven't finished it....
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:iconmmv303:
mmv303 Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014
Thank you for this! Congrats on the DD.
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
XD welcome, and thank you!
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:iconhyperanimegirl4lyfe:
hyperanimegirl4lyfe Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Student
BEST! my thanks to you fellow author :)
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
awwies thank you!
Reply
:iconhyperanimegirl4lyfe:
hyperanimegirl4lyfe Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Student
you're welcome! i look forward to reading more tutorials :)
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:iconshebeast2:
shebeast2 Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014
thanks this will help me alot x
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
welcome!
Reply
:iconterramarmsxiii:
TerramArmsXIII Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
haha, not bad! even tips i can relate to, i think what makes my writing unique is that it follows it's own style, which is what i think most writers should find.

But this list is good, nice!
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
I agree with you, everyone should have their own style (in fact it's almost impossible not to) but it also helps to know how to strengthen your style :)
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:iconterramarmsxiii:
TerramArmsXIII Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
yeah, my sentence work could use work not going to lie.
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
haha mine too.
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