3 Tips to Stop Run-On Sentences in Creative Writing

Hi all, today I am going to highlight to you a writing error and it is one that children frequently make in their writing, looking at the writing of my children, it is a serious language mistake that affects children from P3 all the way to P6. *panting for breath*

Do you like the sentence above? If you don’t, that makes two of us! 

What you have just witnessed is a run-on sentence and some students write sentences like this, which join two ideas without proper punctuation

3 tips to stop run-on sentences in creative writing

Other students write sentences like this:

Run-on sentences by primary school student

This student used connectors, but towards the end, this student forgot to punctuate. He also forgot to limit the number of ideas in his sentence.

What is a run-on sentence?

A simple explanation will be that a run-on sentence is a sentence that has two or more ideas. It does not have the correct punctuation or a conjunction (a connecting word) to string these ideas together. In fact, you can think of it as a sentence that keeps running on and on without taking a break with a punctuation or a connector. 

Do your teachers often add “Run-on sentence!” or “Sentence is too long!” in your composition script? Now you know what he or she means. Some children have the misconception that the longer a sentence is, the more mastery they demonstrate in writing. However, that really is not the case. In fact, we will encourage short and grammatically accurate sentences to be formed instead.  

Firstly, short sentences are clearer and readers can follow them easily. The last thing you want when writing is for your readers to be confused and lost while reading. It is frustrating and readers may even give up on the story. Secondly, shorter sentences are less confusing. Therefore, you are also less likely to make grammatical errors in them such as in subject-verb agreement.

Now that you know less maybe more, here are three things to do to stop run-on sentences!

3 tips to stop run on sentences in creative writing

1. Keep ideas/actions to a maximum of two

Remember that a simple sentence first starts with a subject and a verb. Sentences have things doing actions for them.

keep ideas or actions to a maximum of two

The subject is Elena, and the action is racing towards the classroom.

To keep sentences from running on, be mindful to have a maximum of two ideas or actions. It is perfectly fine for the sentence above on Elena to stand on its own even though there is only one idea or action (raced). Again, do not feel that the sentence is too short to be a good one. If we would like to improve on this sentence, we can always add an interesting sentence starter to it e.g. Without hesitation, Elena raced towards the classroom. You can read more about this in the bonus tip offered at the end of this post.

2. Use suitable connectors to join ideas

Ideas have to be connected with a conjunction, as shown below:

Use suitable connectors to join ideas

We can attach another idea to the first sentence about Elena in different ways. Let’s take a look at how each of the connectors can be used to connect the original sentence on Elena to another idea:

We use and to link two similar ideas together.

e.g. Elena raced towards the classroom and was sweating buckets.

We use but or yet to link two opposite ideas together.

e.g. Elena raced towards the classroom but she was not looking forward to the test.

e.g. Elena raced towards the classroom yet she was feeling sick.

We use because or as to tell the readers the reason for the subject’s action.

e.g. Elena raced towards the classroom because she was late.

e.g. Elena raced towards the classroom as she was late.

We can also use as to mean that someone is doing two things at the same time:

e.g. Elena raced towards the classroom as she thought about the test.

We use so to tell the readers the reason why the subject, Elena, is doing what she does.

e.g. Elena raced towards the classroom so that she would be on time for class.

3. Avoid using commas to replace connectors

Commas that connect two ideas together are called comma splices and should be avoided. Unfortunately, this is not a good way of joining ideas and is ungrammatical.

If you have the habit of using commas to join sentences, learn to identify the actions first and keep each sentence to a maximum of two ideas.

For instance, in our first example, we have the sentence: Tim was thirsty, he raced down the corridor, he stopped short in front of the grey shutters.

We can break this sentence into:

Tim was thirsty, he raced down the corridor. (2 actions)

He stopped short in front of the grey shutters. (1 action)

or

Tim was thirsty. (1 action)

He raced down the corridor, he stopped short in front of the grey shutters.(2 actions)

Following this, you can apply connectors as suggested in tip 2 to join the ideas together in a sentence:

Tim was thirsty as he raced down the corridors. 

In the sentence, we can use a connector to show the two actions Tim had. I have chosen "as" to write that Tim was feeling thirsty while he was racing down the corridors.

In the first example, there are too many ideas that are being separated with commas. Let’s break down this whole chunk so that we can re-write these ideas:

Avoid using commas to replace connectors

Let me show how you to re-write the second example as well. Since there is already an attempt to use connectors, the main area to work on to stop the run-on sentences will be to keep sentences to contain a maximum of two ideas. 

How to replace connectors in run-on sentences

Bonus! 

If you have mastered the art of correcting your own run-on sentences, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Not all sentences should start with the subject. If this happens, the story gets boring! Imagine if a story went like this:

John was hungry. John dashed towards the canteen. He bought a bowl of noodles and a drink of Ribena from the other stall.

The story sounds boring because all the sentences start with the word, “John”.

Let’s try using some transitions or sentence starters, like this:

Bonus! Stop run on sentences in creative writing

Since connecting words like “Since”, “After”, and “Soon” are at the beginning of the sentence, we put a comma in the middle and connect two ideas. Do you see how much better the story is because of the transitions in blue? You can learn more about sentence starters here to improve on your sentence construction.

If you have experienced success in stopping your run-on sentences, share your own tips and tricks below! 

Happy writing!

Lil' but Mighty English Teacher

Ms. Xie is an English Teacher at Lil’ but Mighty. Her best subject has always been English and she's been writing ever since she could hold a pen. Her first book, Dragonhearted, was shortlisted for the Scholastic Asian Book Award in 2014 and published in 2016. It was also shortlisted for the Singapore Book Awards in 2017. She also likes hugging fat cats. The fatter they are, the better.