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I have a horrific habit I'm finding it very difficult to break. A disturbingly large portion of my sentences consist of the same structure-- two parts separated by "and." I don't know how to break the habit. Please help.

Example:

After awhile our words subsided, and I commented on a picture of his dog which hung on the wall over the television. This immediately invoked considerable excitement in him, and he asked me if I would like to see better. I uncertainly answered Yes, and he rose from the couch and headed for a doorway to the left.

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3 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

You have six sentences' worth of text in three conjoined sentences. Not all of the pairings are necessary and some might not be "correct"; for example, you could just as easily conjoin the question and the answer, which are currently part of two different sentences.

One way to attack this problem is to break it into the six sentences and then ask yourself which ones really go together. Join only those ones.

Another way to break it up is to not always use "and" for your conjunction. You can also use semicolons to tie sentence clauses together, and you can use words like "then" to connect independent sentences.

Finally, you can mix up your structure more (see example below).

Putting all these ideas together, here is one possible revision of your text:

After a while our words subsided. I commented on a picture of his dog which hung on the wall over the television, and he grew excited and asked if I would like to see better. Uncertainly I answered yes. Then he rose from the couch and headed for a doorway to the left.

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Excellent answer. I would also add that you can try semi-colons to join two complete sentences: I commented on a picture of his dog; he grew excited and asked if I would like to see it better. –  Lauren Ipsum Mar 20 '12 at 17:51
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@LaurenIpsum, funnily enough, I used a semicolon there in my first draft of this, then found that I'd eliminated all of OP's "and"s and didn't want to send quite that strong a message. :-) (I did mention semicolons but didn't end up using one.) –  Monica Cellio Mar 20 '12 at 17:56
    
So you did -- I skimmed your answer too quickly; my fault. :) –  Lauren Ipsum Mar 20 '12 at 19:51
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Sometimes changing the words around can make the actions trigger each other because using and can make sentences sound like a list. By having a mix of long and short sentences you can vary the pace of your writing.

I don't think I've quite kept your original meaning but here is an idea of what I mean...

After awhile our words subsided. Commenting on the picture of his dog immediately invoked considerable excitement in him, and he asked me if I would like to see better. I uncertainly answered Yes, looking towards the photograph hanging on the wall over the television. He rose from the couch, heading for a doorway to the left.

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In addition to Monica's great suggestions for structure once you've located the problem, you need to develop a way to find all the problem sentences.

Either at the beginning or end of every writing session, search through your new text and look for and. Look at every pair of clauses you've joined and highlight them. Then go back and start rebuilding them, not using the same fix twice in a row if you can help it.

Whether you do this at the beginning when you're fresh (and you want to get back into the story, and can look at your work with a little distance) or at the end when you've run out of steam (so you feel like you've put it to bed for the night) is entirely dependent on your personal workflow.

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Excellent advice! –  Monica Cellio Mar 20 '12 at 18:15
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