The following is a very brief lecture I sent to the students in my graduate Writing Reviews course. The ideas about making sentences more interesting apply to most kinds of writing.

I think it’s important to see that "writing" sits on a wide spectrum from writing-to-inform at one end to writing-to-entertain at the other. An owner's manual for a new car is at one end. Poetry is at the other end. Reviews are usually someplace in the middle. If you're reviewing car batteries, you're probably not going to do much to entertain your reader, who’s just in it for the info. But reviews of more aesthetic experiences, such as restaurants, movies, music, and books, tend to have more entertaining language.

So what makes sentences interesting?

You probably already know most of the answers to that question. But let me touch on six of the many, many things to consider.


Adding a bit of alliteration can make sentences more memorable. So it's not a bad thing. But be careful not to overindulge. When it starts to call attention to itself...probably not a great idea. Consider more subtle sound play such as assonance and maybe a little internal rhyme. Repeating vowel sounds in a sentence can add a lyric touch.  A bit of rhyme can be nearly charming.


We all know the simile and the metaphor. Consider using them to interest your reader. Beware of boring similes/metaphors of course. And one or two go a long way. Don't overuse them. But check out this site for other, less familiar figures/tropes/schemes and use them:


Make sure your adjectives and adverbs carry some weight. Many of them convey emotion without much substance. When I read that a tabbouleh salad is delicious or mouth-watering, great or fantastic, I have learned only that the reviewer enjoyed the meal. But I know nothing about the food. Better to be specific: the tabbouleh salad featured chopped fresh parsley, fresh mint, tomato, scallions, lemon juice, and olive oil. The adjective fresh tells me something.

Challenge every modifier. Is it really precise and totally informative???

TO BE or not TO BE

TO BE verbs (is, am, are, were, be, being, been, to be, etc.) ARE sometimes useful. However, writers tend to default to TO BE verbs when writing description. Resist the temptation. Instead of saying "the sausage WAS juicy and redolent with sage," you could use an active verb: "the aromatic sage amped up the juicy sausage and paired perfectly with the puffy potatoes." You get the idea. You might want to go through your draft and highlight in pink every TO BE verb. See how many you can ditch and replace with a fine, sparking, active verb. ACTIVE VERBS SUMMON SIZZLE TO YOUR SENTENCES.  (okay...I'll stop.)


Short sentences pack a punch. Use them. But we need to combine clauses to present our more nuanced ideas. You can link sentences through coordination: I went to the fancy restaurant, and I ordered the most expensive food on the menu. You can link sentences through subordination: When I went to the fancy restaurant, I ordered expensive food.

Writers often default to coordination, but coordination can be monotonous, and it can get on the reader's nerves, plus it doesn’t show very well how clauses are logically connected. Coordination is not necessarily a bad thing (see Hemingway). Fancy writers call coordination PARATAXIS and subordination HYPOTAXIS. ( Check out that short article.

HYPOTAXIS enriches your sentences with layers of modification. (BTW, I very highly recommend the book Building Great Sentences by Brooks Landon--

When you use subordination, you should think about how your sentences "branch." Do they branch to the right, to the left, in the middle, or in multiple places?

RIGHT BRANCH: I drove my old car to the cafe because I was hungry. (Sometimes called a "loose" sentence--no value judgment implied.)

LEFT BRANCH: Because I was hungry, I drove my old car to the cafe. (Sometimes called a "periodic" sentence---valued by antiquity.) 

MID-BRANCH: I drove, through heavy rain, nearly running off the long, thin lane several times, my old car. (Beware of too many words between subject and verb or verb and in this example.)

All branching patterns have their uses. Think about why you use one or the other. Be a mindful writer.


Use the thesaurus ( to find the right word, the smart word...and sometimes the attention-getting word. But, as with other fireworks, a little goes a long way. Comb your sentences carefully for clichés. When you find one, turn it on its ear, change it up, find better words.