Imagine the sentences you write start with a train locomotive that pulls all the carriages along. This locomotive is the SUBJECT and VERB combination that gives your sentence meaning early on. Everything else in the sentence is pulled along by the “locomotive”. This writing tip helps you write very long sentences clearly and meaningfully.
The riot police held their ground as the crowd surged towards them, flaming Molotov cocktails bursting like grenades and the deafening roar of stamping boots shaking the rainy streets of London.
The subject and verb combination in this very long sentence is “The riot police held their ground”. Note how it sets the scene and provides meaning early on? This maintains the reader’s attention to the end of the sentence.
The sentence is 31 words long but it still manages to convey the action of the scene without losing the reader’s interest.
Don’t confuse your reader by separating the subject and the verb, or giving them a late entrance.
An example of dreadful subject and verb separation:
The farmer, knowing his daughter was at that age when young men came to visit, sharpened his axe.
Why would you want to frustrate your reader so?
Bring meaning to your sentences EARLY ON by introducing the action quickly. Who did what? The rest of the stuff will have a lot more meaning if your subject and verb make an early entrance.
Let’s look at some examples from John Steinbeck, author of Cannery Row:
He didn’t need a clock. He had been working in a tidal pattern for so long that he could feel a tide change in his sleep. In the dawn he awakened, looked out through the windshield, and saw that the water was already retreating down the bouldery flat. He drank some hot coffee, ate three sandwiches, and had a quart of beer.
The tide goes out imperceptibly. The boulders show and seem to rise up and the ocean recedes leaving little pools, leaving wet weed and moss and sponge, iridescence and brown and blue and China red. On the bottoms lie the incredible refuse of the sea, shells broken and chipped and bits of skeleton, claws, the whole sea bottom a fantastic cemetery on which the living scamper and scramble.
Note how Steinbeck places the subject and verb at the beginning of each sentence. He keeps things interesting by changing the lengths of his sentences, and the passage is easy to read and enticing.
Over to you:
Find a newspaper or magazine article and mark the subject and verb with a pen or pencil. Are they separated? How do the sentences compare when they are near the beginning of the sentence? Got another writing tip? Let me know on Twitter or comment below.