So, because I'm teaching a class on pacing and have gotten to the "prose" part, I think this might be a good opportunity to summarize what we all discussed about PPPs and such.
Jami mentioned that she thought maybe eliminating most of the PPPs could lead to the kind of "fresh, crisp" voice the editors keep asking for. Hmm. Good thought. There is nothing as "crisp" as the declarative SVO sentence, as it succinctly and immediately identifies the causer of the action, the action, and the recipient. Too many unadorned SVO sentences can feel choppy, but this should be the default, as it's so efficient in conveying information.
With that SVO (or just SV, for sentences that describe a condition with non-transitive -- no object-- verbs, like "I wept") as the main clause, you can build other types of sentences. But what's really important, really meaningful, is in a main clause, an independent clause, which can if need be be spun off as its own sentence-- for emphasis, for clarity.
But you can also build on that simple clear statement, adding whatever is needed to deepen the emotion, focus the description, hint at some complication. The kernel of meaning will still be there, however, and the reader will find it if you don't gild up the sentence too much.
I suspect that the more we put in front of the subject, the more arcane the sentence becomes and the more prone to errors. Readers are more likely to be confused at the start of the sentence because they don't have the accumulation of meaning yet. Later in the sentence, an extra phrase or qualifier won't confuse, because the reader knows the main point of the sentence and can put that all into context.
So what should go in front of the main clause? Well, someone-- who was that?-- was mentioning that "inflection" might go first-- that's what tells the reader how to read something. This is really important with dialogue-- we might read the line of speech differently if we know Joan shouted it rather than Pete whispering it.
Something else that might go well at the start of the sentence is some connective referring back, a transition like "Of course" or even a dependent clause like "Although he knew the truth--" That will help provide continuity between sentences (and it's really helpful in smoothing a paragraph break).
A setting or time marker, especially if it's short, can be essential to understanding not just this sentence but how it connects to the rest of the scene: "Across town..." or "The next day..."
And let's say you want to vary the openings of sentences-- do it in a meaningful way, with an element that adds to the reader's understanding and doesn't confuse.
So what else can we say about sentences? What have you found that works? I keep wanting to make a point about sentences and paragraphs-- that if you paragraph well, you'll resist the impulse for the long complicated sentences because you won't think you need to put everything in before the period. So often with these intro PPPs, I kept wondering-- why not do two sentences? When I read these 26-word sentences, with action, reaction, setting, and thought, I wonder, why not make a whole paragraph of this?
How we speak is not a reliable guide to how we should write, but that's something to consider. The reader will naturally consider sentence patterns that replicate the rhythms of conversation (even if the diction is more formal and all the "uhhs" are deleted :) more "authentic" and "real". That's not where you necessarily want to end up, but that might be where you want to start. Does this sound natural? The more conversational our voice is, the deeper our POV, the closer to character voice the narrative is-- the more we want to sound sort of like speech.
What do you all think? What suggestions do you have for revising sentences, especially the start of the sentence?