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Using Varied Sentence Structure in Creative Writing for the 11+

Eleven-Plus Preparation Specialists

Being able to deploy different types of sentences will set your work apart from that of your peers. Crucially, it will also make your writing much more enjoyable to read! Here, we’ll think about different ways of changing sentence structure, and then look at some examples. We’ll also take a brief look at two tools that you can use – the rhetorical question and the ellipsis.

Varying the Length of Your Sentences

This is the most obvious way of changing sentence structure. Some writers are famous for their short sentences, and others are known for long, winding sentences. To show your promise as a young writer, you should feature both in your writing. Remember that short sentences can have particular effects on the reader – they can be used to build up tension, to drive the narrative forward, or to relieve tension too. Short sentences can provide just as much description as longer sentences too. Let’s think about some examples.

‘I walked toward the house. It was a dull day. The house was old, Victorian. The house had ivy growing over it. The windows were tall and thin. The lawn had a croquet set on it.

This extract is rather boring, as the sentences simply ‘plod’ along. There is no effort made to switch style, or take the reader on a journey through a variety of structures.

‘The house was an old construction, from the Victorian era perhaps, all timber and thatched roofs, with ivy winding its way across the front, and the windows tall and rather ornate. Walking down the path to the house one had the sensation of being transported to another country, or to the past, as the gardens were perfectly manicured in the style of the early 20th century, and there was a croquet set upon the lawn that made up the main part of those gardens.’

These sentences are both rather long, and winding. Whilst we do get an idea of the house and its gardens, we might get a little bored whilst reading too. How can we take short sentences and long and combine them?

‘I walked towards the house. It was old, with ivy winding across its facade, and with ornate windows dotted across its timber and brick. Impressed, I turned to look at the gardens. They were similarly decorative, with a great expanse of lawn bordered by perfectly manicured flower beds; set upon the lawn was a croquet set.’

Here, we’ve changed the sentence structure throughout and thus crafted a more enjoyable experience for the reader.

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Varying Sentence Openings

Consider the following sentence:

‘I walked down the path. I sat for a while, and then made my way into the village. I decided to go and pay old Mr Hubbard a visit. I thought that this would be a fine way to spend an afternoon.’ Notice that every sentence starts in the same way – ‘I verb’ – which makes for a monotonous reading experience. Let’s try something else:

‘I walked down the path. After sitting for a while, I eventually rose and made my way into the village. There, I planned to pay a visit to old Mr Hubbard, which seemed a fine way to spend an afternoon.’

Notice that as well as varying the length of the sentences a little more, we’ve also changed the way we begin them. First, with a verb, then with an expression of time, and finally with ‘there’ being used as a noun. This makes for a much more natural reading experience, and makes it clear that you are writing with the reader in mind, rather than simply writing in order to produce sentences. You set yourself apart as someone who can put sentences together in a way that flows.

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Rhetorical Questions, Ellipses

Lastly, consider using rhetorical questions and ellipses. A rhetorical question can be a great way of engaging the reader, of making them think, or of driving home a point. Remember that the point of a rhetorical question is that it is a question without an answer. An example of a famous rhetorical question is:

‘If winter comes, can spring be far behind?’

You might find that asking actual questions, as well as rhetorical questions, can be useful when writing essays in which you need to make an argument or debate a topic.

Lastly, an ellipsis (…) can be useful for showing someone’s thoughts trailing off, or leaving the reader with a cliffhanger…
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