Throwing SHADE at Your Sentences

hooded man

Ciao, SEers! Yeah, I know “throwing shade” is an insult. I promise, that’s not what I mean. I just wanted to get your attention. Do I have it? Great!

When I was in school, we learned about the four types of sentences:

  • declarative (statement)
  • interrogative (question)
  • imperative (command)
  • exclamative (exclamation/shout of surprise)

Our teachers told us we could remember these by the first letters of the words: DIIE, or the elongating the word “die” as a mnemonic device. I didn’t think a mnemonic device was necessary for four simple concepts, especially one that didn’t really work, but it made them happy, so whatever.

Today, I think we all know those four sentence types about as well as we know our own names, without any memory tricks. (Especially ones that don’t quite work.) But I want to discuss five different sentence types that we use in our fiction, and I have a mnemonic device that actually does work to help you remember them.

SHADE.

It stands for sensory, history, action, dialogue, and exposition. Let’s look at each in more detail.

Sensory

Sensory sentences deal with the senses. We tend to rely on what we see and lean heavily into the visual—colors, people’s appearances, expressions. But there are four other senses that add rich detail to our descriptions. Smell is the strongest memory trigger. Sound can help ground a character and define a setting. Taste is the most often ignored but can be a vibrant and defining sense. And touch adds texture and dimension that none of the other senses offers. Joan hall wrote an excellent series of posts on the five senses. For more details, you can find her take on sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch by clicking the links.

History

Sentences that detail a character’s history are often discouraged. People hear “backstory” and they throw up red flags. But backstory is important. No, you don’t want huge blocks of it. Info dumps are bad and boring and readers will put down your book and probably never pick it up again. But they do need to know who your character is. Just like you get to know a new friend bit by bit over the course of the years you know them, you want to get to know your characters bit by bit over the pages you know them. Of course you don’t need to know about the time he skinned his knee at Great Aunt Ida’s 95th birthday party. Not unless it’s relevant to who he is today or what the plot of the story is now. But you’ll want to see that he always buys coffee at the Dunkin’ across from Panda Express at 9:00 a.m. before going to work, and he always pays for the car behind him. That’s history, but it also establishes his character.

Action

Action sentences are the ones we either love writing or dread writing. These are the ones that really drive the plot forward. Fight scenes. Chase scenes. A hike. A stroll. A leisurely country drive. A swim. A horse ride. Most of the time, if it’s a verb, it falls in this category. These scenes are driven by what’s going on externally and not what the character is thinking or feeling. That doesn’t mean you can’t use any internalization, because you can work some in. But the focus is the driving action around the characters.

Dialogue

Dialogue is probably the type of sentence we’re all most familiar with. I’ve written two posts about it already, if you want to brush up on some of the rules or best practices. Dialogue is important because, when done effectively, it drives the plot better than any other sentence type. Characters exchanging words is the easiest way for an author to impart information to a reader. Just make certain it’s easy to tell who is speaking without going overboard with name use. You don’t want to do anything that confuses or distracts the reader.

Exposition

The last type of sentence is exposition. This is when your character can express his opinion about his situation. It’s a good place to reveal details about the setting—it could be his unease about the creepy noises in the fog—or his jealousy that his ex (who he broke up with) has moved on and he hasn’t and he has a nonstop internal monologue about all the guy’s flaws while they make polite smalltalk over beers at a picnic. Any information that you want to impart to the reader can be done through your POV character’s internal thoughts, which is far better than a generic, bland description that could have come from any random narrator.


So, there you have it. SHADE. If you have your POV character throw a little shade in your stories, you’ll avoid that generic narrator in your work and have a strong established voice throughout.

Do you avoid the generic narrator in your stories? Let’s talk about your techniques.

Staci Troilo bio box

51 thoughts on “Throwing SHADE at Your Sentences

  1. Thanks, Staci. Your mnemonic is brilliant. And your categories are so much better than diie. Incidentally, when I was at school in the Dark Ages, I don’t remember learning about sentence types. Maybe the UK was different. ( Good job I checked this. Autocorrect changed diie to door without even asking.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m certain I would have posted without checking, and autocorrect would have messed me up for sure. Kudos to you on that one!

      Interesting that the UK didn’t teach that. I remember learning it in the early years of elementary school. And (unfortunately) every single year after. So tedious. Oh, well. It definitely sank in at some point. And I’m glad SHADE is getting a better reception than DIIE did! Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Loved this post. I have to struggle to include sensory sentences in my writing, besides visual. I’m always getting notes on my manuscripts–“how does it smell?,” taste?, etc. This is a great reminder post. Thanks, Staci!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fantastic post, Staci! Your mnemonic is very helpful and ingenious. Even I can remember it! 😊 Henceforth, I’ll be checking my sentences for SHADE. Well done, my friend!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. This is a fantastic post, Staci! I have to admit I get a headache when I try to remember the definition of those sentences from English class. But when you put them in simple terms they are sentences I use every day in writing. I love your SHADE explanation!! This is a wonderful refresher for me!! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think things are always easier to remember with mnemonic devices or examples. (Or both.) If this helps people incorporate one of these sentence types into their work that they previously forgot to use (or use enough of), then I did my job. Thanks, Jan.

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  5. Great post, Staci. I am especially fond of the sensory part. I love smells, and tastes. They can do a lot for your writing. Just picture going into grandma’s house. I know I still can smell bread on Saturday and sauce on Sunday.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Staci, I love your examples for each type of sentence and the mnemonic is clever. Definitely easy to wrap your head around when writing. Sensory is my favorite type of sentence to write, but I actually love them all, even the dreaded action. I think the more a writer flexes SHADE muscles, the more deft they’ll become at each of these. Fabulous post. I see your teaching background clearly in this one!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I guess you can take this professor out of a teaching venue, but you can’t make her stop teaching. (Much to my kids’ chagrin, I’m sure.) I do love to give ways to make things easier to learn and remember. I’m glad you found the post examples useful.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Well, teaching is a great way to fortify your knowledge. I think I learned something in every class I taught. But you do have to practice what you preach, too. I’m glad you found this post useful for your writing journey.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I will remember the word shade and what goes with it. I do love using dialog and sensory but they are all needed in a story to get the full picture. Great post, Mae 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Pingback: Throwing SHADE at Your Sentences – Stuff I want to read

  9. I think the key in using these devices is balance. Too much of any one of them, even action, can weary the reader. Backstory gives depth and substance, dialogue livens up the story, action drives it forward. A deft interweaving of sentence types is necessary for good writing.

    Liked by 4 people

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