Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Writing Tips: Balancing Style and Structure

Jun 4 / Jeanne De Vita
Whether you’re an experienced author or a new writer just discovering your stories, finding a balance between the technical elements of the story and your creative voice can be a challenge.
No matter how beautiful and poetic your writing style is, you need to keep the writing moving for the reader. A simple rule of thumb is the rule of 1-2-3.
Whether you’re writing a sentence, paragraph, or entire chapter, the simplest way to avoid overdoing style so you don’t overwhelm your reader is to limit the number of adjectives, actions, subjects, and clauses to no more than three. So for example, if you can count four adjectives in one sentence, ask yourself if you’ve out too many descriptive words into that sentence. Here’s an example:
Her long, hot, sticky mane of chestnut hair matted against her sweaty forehead.
Now this sentence is clear, right? You read it and see it and likely understand the intended meaning. But if we write an entire paragraph or page this way, the reader will have a lot of description to sift through and the pace of the page or scene or chapter will slow down or stop altogether. This is how style can bugger up your structure! A very simple fix would be to count the descriptive words you use in a sentence, paragraph, or page. If you keep the sentence above as it is, you have four adjectives describing the character’s hair: long, hot, sticky, chestnut). Does it make sense to fix this? Let’s take a look at what happens when we challenge ourselves to use fewer adjectives.
Writing practice! Try limiting the number of adjectives in the sentence above to no more than three.
Since we assume her hair sticks to her forehead because its sweaty, we can trim a bit of the excess here and revise this to:
Strands of her long chestnut hair matted against her sweaty forehead.
See how much simpler? How much more quickly we get to the point? We trimmed two of the four adjectives describing hair and yet the reader can still visualize the scene.
Now, if you’re really in love with all those words, there is another way to apply the rule of 1-2-3 to keep the pace moving. If you leave this sentence as is (with four adjectives to describe the character’s hair) then give your reader some forward movement in the next few sentences. How would you apply the rule of 1-2-3 then? Since you have a sentence with more than 3 descriptive words, that’s the ONE (1) sentence in that paragraph that should be descriptive. The rest of the sentences should focus more heavily on action or dialogue!

See how eliminating a whole paragraph of description makes room for action, narrative, characterization? You can still use adjectives, but keep track of how many you use and how often you use them.

Be precise and mindful of the words you use. Your readers will thank you! And when you’re ready for professional editing, Romance Writing Academy has a service to support your writing goals!