Five ways to make your prose shine at sentence-level
Once you’ve finished your first draft of your story, it’s important to go back through your work with a clinical eye. In this article, writer and NCW Academy tutor Ashley Hickson-Lovence shows how you can take things line by line to really make your writing sing.
First line

Aim to make the first line of your work of fiction as memorable as possible. No need to overcomplicate it; the opening line is all about hooking the reader in, introducing some of the stakes of the story and making it so intriguing and investable that the reader is compelled to read on…



Use a range of short, medium length, and longer sentences for rhythm and pace. As Gary Provost says: ‘Don’t just write words, write music.’



There are always opportunities to embed poetic features such as alliteration, repetition, sibilance etc. at sentence-level to make the words zip along the page.



Read your work aloud (regularly!); see what bits are working (and do more of that), see what parts don’t work as well and tweak accordingly.



Strip it back… do you need that pace-slowing semi-colon? Or that unnecessary exclamation mark? Is the piece too em dash heavy? Keep it simple, make the prose flow, make every sentence count.


Ashley Hickson-Lovence is a novelist, poet, lecturer in English and Creative Writing and researcher. His debut novel The 392 was published with OWN IT! in April 2019 and his second novel Your Show was released with Faber in April 2022 and was longlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize and shortlisted for the East Anglian Book Awards. His third book, a young adult novel-in-verse called Wild East, is to be released with Penguin in 2024. He is currently completing a new novel called About to Fall Apart.

Since completing his PGCE at UCL Institute of Education in 2014, Ashley has taught English in secondary schools at Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4 and Key Stage 5. He completed his MA in Creative Writing and Publishing with a Distinction from City, University of London in 2017 and in October 2018 started his AHRC CHASE-funded PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia.

Ashley is an NCW Academy online course tutor. We have courses in writing fiction, crime fiction, memoirs, scripts, romantic fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry. Find out more → 

(c) Peter Arkley Bloxham

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