RX from the Book Doctor: Avoid the Conjunction Compunction
By Bobbie Christmas
A fellow writer recently asked me if it was okay to start a sentence with the word and or but. She said that members of her critique circle said it was okay and that publishers didn’t care if their writers started a sentence with and or but.
I thought her question and comment gave me a perfect subject for a blog that reached more writers than just the one who asked the question, so here goes.
The following words are conjunctions: and, but, so, therefore. Conjunctions should tie compound sentences or lists together. For example, My dog likes to run, and he runs away, every chance he gets.
While strict usage says that conjunctions should not appear at the beginning of a sentence, few periodicals demand strict adherence to every grammar rule. Conjunctions can in fact sometimes appear at the beginning of a sentence, especially for effect. Doing so can add impact, and if so, readers and publishers don’t seriously object. Here is an example of using a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence for impact: John said he wanted to rescue me from my drab life. But in the end, he turned out to be more villain than rescuer.
As with any technique, however, overuse grows repetitive and therefore becomes objectionable. One or two sentences that begin with a conjunction are okay, but more than one on a page, more than four in a chapter, and you have weak writing. Perhaps publishers and readers don’t object to weak writing if a story is strong, but does the author want to be labeled a weak writer? That answer is left up to the writer.
Usually the conjunction can be moved or deleted and the sentence becomes stronger. Weak: We went to a movie. And then we went to dinner. Stronger: We went to a movie and then to dinner.
Weak: Mary laced up her shoes. But she laced them haphazardly. Stronger: Mary laced up her shoes, but she laced them haphazardly. Weak: I wanted new shoes for the event. So I jumped into the car to drive to the mall. Stronger: I wanted new shoes for the event, so I jumped into the car to drive to the mall.
Avoid repetition! If too many sentences begin with the same word, such as and or but, the writing grows pedantic. Be a strong writer, and here’s how: After you have written your first draft and while you are in the revision phase, seek out all the sentences in your manuscript that begin with a conjunction and consider other ways to make the sentence strong. Recast sentences to avoid conjunctions at the beginning or link sentences to make them compound, and your writing grows stronger.
Yes, publishers may accept conjunctions at the beginning of many sentences, but persistent creative writers always look for ways to improve their writing.
Yours in writing,
Owner, Zebra Communications
Excellent Editing for Maximum Marketability
Coordinator, FWA Editors Helping Writers
Contact Bobbie at Bobbie@zebraeditor.com