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Sentence Structure

Earnest Hemingway once wrote: For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Packs a punch, doesn’t it? The story he packed inside this sentence is worth writing a book.

This is not to say more is better. Avoid putting more than two-three ideas that are linked together in one sentence. You won’t get it wrong if you follow the golden role: One idea per sentence.

In Hemingway’s sentence the ideas are three: There is a sale. They sell baby shoes. They have never been worn. He links the ideas by a brilliant use of the colon and coma. Of course, his sentence packs a stronger punch if it was split in three separate sentences, but it’s still good.

Group ideas in one sentence only when the effect is more striking.

Avoid writing sentences longer that 18 words – it reduces readability. Have a nice mix of sentence length and structure.  

A good sentence must contain the following elements:

1)    The facts

This is the skeleton of the sentence. You need subject and a verb. Who did what?


John ran.

This as simple as it gets. We can build from here. Add the Where and When.

John ran on sharp stones yesterday.

Now add the Why.

John ran from the police on sharp stones yesterday.

Now the sentence raises more questions and gives you a path to follow in the next sentence. Why was John running from the police? How did he get there? A story begins to form. Always tell a story.

You can embellish:

John ran from the police on sharp stones to his girlfriend early yesterday.

The skeleton is the 5Ws: Who, what, when where, why. You can add the How too.

2)    Create Images

Tease your readers a bit. Leaves some holes for them to fill. Let them imagine. Use a subject and a strong active verb.

He painted the water red is much better than His blood tickled into the water.

The first leaves more space to the imagination, the later is merely descriptive. Thread the line between describing concretely and abstractly.

Warn the reader of your intention to leave a puzzle for them. Use words like ‘Imagine this’, ‘Picture this’, etc. This signals the beginning of an exercise for mental agility and you’d surprised how much readers like it. It gives them a part to play in the story and we all want to have a story. Include them whenever you can, but don’t overdo it as too much work gets tiring.

Consider the phrase: Space to breathe.

3)    Evoke emotion

Sports writing is about emotion even if we like to discuss technical stuff. It is played by people for people. If people were not curious how things happened, what was the meaning behind it, what to expect, they would only follow the result and not read at all. Fortunately, this is not the case.

How to evoke emotion?

Evoke it in yourself first. Write about what you find interesting and are passionate about. Tell the story in your own voice. Follow the above rules and you will be fine.

4)    Practice

Keep writing even if it feels wooden and mechanical. It will at first. Just as when you were learning to walk. Practicing is the key to improving your sentences.

Avoid succumbing to despair if it’s not working out. Edit your way out. The first draft is always not good enough. 


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