Revising Sentences III

This week I’ve been talking about revising sentences to make them more effective. This is the the last post in this series. You can read #1 here:, and you can read #2 here:

The sentences come from a story I read recently. (The sentences are slightly disguised.) An inmate is describing an incident in his corridor: Two other inmates – Tony and Cal – have been carrying on a loud conversation that annoys Bert, another inmate who’s trying to sleep.

Bert comes into the corridor and hits and kicks Tony, who falls to the floor. Other inmates grab Bert and call for a medic.

Here’s today’s sentence: I began to be obsessed with thoughts about getting out.

Our inmate narrator is starting to think about an escape – and that’s how I would reword and develop the sentence:

I started thinking about an escape, and soon I couldn’t think about anything else. A friend who worked next to me in the prison laundry noticed how distracted I was. Several times I forgot to remove clean uniforms from a machine when the washing cycle was finished.  STRONGER

When you’re writing fiction, every sentence should try to do one (or more) of three things: move the story along, develop the characters, or create an atmosphere.

That word move is hugely important. Keep things moving! Don’t say “My job was in the laundry.” Remind readers that it’s a prison laundry (and mention uniforms). Make your sentence active: “A friend who worked next to me in the prison laundry…..”

“Began to be obsessed” is flat. Our narrator isn’t doing anything; it’s happening to him. What did he do because he was obsessed? He forgot to remove uniforms from a machine. Now your story is moving.

Here’s another example:

I began to be happy in my new school. WEAK

I started to enjoy my new school. STRONGER

Better yet, add some actions. “By the end of the first week, I made three new friends.” “For the first time ever, algebra started to make sense to me.”

Keep it moving!

prison uniform on a hanger


Leave a Reply