Eighteen Ways To Write A Moderately Cool Sentence About A Ninja Girl (And Her Sidekick)

by Becky on May 17, 2013

in Writing Life

Shadows

The camera caught Miss Lavender (aka Ninja Girl, sometimes) catching some prime air. For the teens out there who need some practice styling sentences different ways–or for anyone wanting to stretch their sentence-writing muscles–I thought I’d give this little exercise a go and invite you to pick your own photo and follow the pattern for your own workout. Generating sentences of various lengths and types is a serious skill builder and does more than anything else (I think) to help writers acquire what we (rather nebulously) call ‘style.’

One. Simple sentence: subject, verb.

Ninja Girl leaps.

Two. Compound sentence: two clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction.

Ninja Girl leaps, and her shadow leaps too.

Three. Complex sentence: an independent clause joined to a dependent clause by a subordinating conjunction.

Ninja Girl leaps away from her shadow because it attempted to speak to her.

Four. Compound-complex sentence: two independent clauses followed by a dependent clause.

Ninja Girl leaps away from her shadow, but her shadow holds on tight because it feels bound to deliver a message.

Five. Participial modifier followed by a complex sentence.

Haunted for days by something it witnessed in the land of shadows, Ninja Girl’s shadow attempts once, twice, ten times, to reveal what it knows about the secret rebellion stirring in the Shadow World.

Six. Simple sentence beginning with a coordinating conjunction (usually a “no-no” but often used to good effect).

But Ninja Girl won’t listen.

Seven. Simple sentence with a compound predicate, followed by a participial phrase.

So Ninja Girl’s shadow gathers itself and, in one explosive burst, channels all of its shadow energy into Ninja Girl, flooding her with knowledge and inhuman strength.

Eight. Three simple sentences, the first beginning with an adverb, the second with a compound subject, the third with a coordinating conjunction.

Suddenly, she understands! She and her shadow must join forces in order to avert a rebellion. And so they do.

Shadows

Nine. A simple sentence so crazy I’d have to diagram it, which would get really boring and moreover I’m getting in way over my head with all this labeling business.

Ninja Girl and her shadow merge in order to fend off a shadow army bent on supplanting all human energy with shadow energy.

Ten. Compound-complex sentence. Independent clause flanked by dependent clauses (the first beginning with ‘if,’ the second beginning with ‘while.’)

If they lose the battle, all humans everywhere will be forever tethered to the ground, while shadows will leap and fly freely, dominating the world.

Eleven. Simple sentence, verb first.

Enter Ninja Boy!

Shadows

Twelve. Prepositional modifier followed by a simple sentence.

At the ready, the most powerful Ninja Boy in the universe waits for the right moment to hurl himself into the fray.

Thirteen. Simple sentence, complex sentence.

No one on earth or beyond has ever seen anyone with the strength of this Ninja Boy. Even if ten thousand shadows combined their muscle and stylishness, they could not equal him.

Fourteen. Participial modifier, followed by Yikes!

Realizing she has an ally, Ninja Girl executes her most daring move yet: the leap-and-pike, a maneuver so dangerous it has proved the demise of every ninja who ever dared to attempt it.

Shadows

Fifteen. Participial modifier followed by a simple sentence followed by another participial modifier followed by . . . hmm . . . anyone’s guess.

Leaping into his own sweet nock-an-arrow move, Ninja Boy flies into action too, matching his elegance to Ninja Girl’s raw power, the two of them sending a current of Pure Humanness through the shadow world and obliterating the shadow insurgency.

Shadows

Sixteen. Simple sentence with a compound predicate.

Their Master Moves reset the delicate balance between human and shadow and restore the Natural Order.

Seventeen. Simple sentence, simple question.

Ninja Girl and her shadow allow themselves a congratulatory leap. Who could blame them?

Shadows

Eighteen. Compound-complex sentence.

Meanwhile, Ninja Boy makes friends with the ten thousand shadows who are less strong than he, and they go and grab some Crema Catalunya gelato at Dino’s.

The End

Here’s what this little collection of sentences we can only very loosely call a story looks like without all the editorializing:

The Story Of Ninja Girl And Her Sidekick

Ninja Girl leaps.

Ninja Girl leaps, and her shadow leaps too.

Ninja Girl leaps away from her shadow because it attempted to speak to her.

Ninja Girl leaps away from her shadow, but her shadow holds on tight because it feels bound to deliver a message.

Haunted for days by something it witnessed in the land of shadows, Ninja Girl’s shadow has attempted once, twice, ten times, to reveal what it knows about the secret rebellion stirring in the Shadow World.

But Ninja Girl won’t listen.

So Ninja Girl’s shadow gathers itself and, in one explosive burst, channels all of its shadow energy, flooding Ninja Girl with knowledge and inhuman strength. Suddenly, she understands! She and her shadow must join forces in order to avert a rebellion. And so they do. Ninja Girl and her shadow merge in order to fend off a shadow army bent on supplanting all human energy with shadow energy. If they lose the battle, all humans everywhere will be forever tethered to the ground, while shadows will leap and fly freely, dominating the world.

Enter Ninja Boy! At the ready, the most powerful Ninja Boy in the universe waits for the right moment to hurl himself into the fray. No one on earth or beyond has ever seen anyone with the strength of this Ninja Boy. Even if ten thousand shadows combined their muscle and stylishness, they could not equal him.

Realizing she has an ally, Ninja Girl executes her most daring move yet: the leap-and-pike, a maneuver so dangerous it has proved the demise of every ninja who ever dared to attempt it. Leaping into his own sweet nock-an-arrow move, Ninja Boy flies into action too, matching his elegance to Ninja Girl’s raw power, the two of them sending a current of Pure Humanness through the Shadow World and obliterating the shadow insurgency. Their Master Moves reset the delicate balance between human and shadow and restore the Natural Order.

Ninja Girl and her shadow allow themselves a congratulatory leap. Who could blame them?

Meanwhile, Ninja Boy makes friends with the ten thousand shadows who are less strong than he, and they go and grab some Crema Catalunya gelato at Dino’s.

A few observations. This story will not win any Pulitzers. If you did not know my tongue was firmly in my cheek the whole time I was writing this, then I’m in trouble. I wanted to focus on sentences. Varying their length and type is a powerful way to fuel inject your writing style. After many years of teaching experience, writing experience, and teaching-writing experience, I can tell you that good sentences anchor good writing. When I write, I constantly think about the way I’m styling my sentences. It’s a conscious effort.

With some practice, anyone can write a stylish sentence. I’m convinced of it. And the best kind of practice is the shameless kind, where you take a sentence you find fun or even elegant and copy the form, hanging your own words on it. Here’s a great sentence that comes at the beginning of Prodigal Summer, by the (almost depressingly) insanely talented Barbara Kingsolver. It reads, “On the first evening she tried to distract or deceive her mind with books, and on the second she carefully bathed with teakettle and cloth and the soap she normally eschewed because it assaulted the noses of deer and other animals with the only human smell they knew, that of hunters–the scent of a predator.”

Here’s how I practice sentence writing using the bones of Kingsolver’s sentence. “From the beginning of her training, Ninja Girl attempted to rise at dawn and be the first one ready to practice, and early on her dedication paid off because she progressed more quickly and earned the respect of even the most senior initiates–something no other novice had done.”  Basic pattern:  compound-complex sentence.

If it seems a little forced, don’t panic. The point is to internalize all kinds of infrastructure so that when your own ideas and words need good form, you know how to build. If you do this enough and with enough good sentences from the works of writers you respect, you’ll start to see your efforts pay off. I mean it.  (And you don’t need to be able to diagram a sentence.  As you could see, my efforts got a little sketchy! . . .)

You’re welcome to write the next chapter of Ninja Girl And Her Sidekick and let me know how it turns out. In fact, I’ll be waiting breathlessly.

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