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How do I stop using 'the' to start sentences so much?
Something that always bothers me in my writing is how often I start sentences with the word "the".
A terrible nonsensical example:
The dog ran through the rain-swept streets, chasing a ball he thought he'd lost. The ball was just ahead of him, always out of reach. The ball was a dull red colour, difficult to see through the rain. The dog was gaining on it, slowly but surely.
Note: this isn't an extract of something I've written but a quick sample to demonstrate the problem. Answers that only deal with restructuring this particular paragraph are not useful.
I'm not concerned with the quality of my writing overall. I know that's something that will improve with time and practice. This also isn't about overuse of "the" in general, which would be a duplicate of this question.
What techniques can I use to prevent myself from starting sentences with "the"?
Start with a word ending in 'ing'. e.g. Opening the door, he stepped into the dark. Chasing a ball he thought he'd lost, the dog ran through the rain-swept streets.
Start with a preposition (so a prepositional phrase). e.g. At the time of the incident she was in London. Through the rain the ball was difficult to see.
Start with an adverb. e.g. Yesterday, the murderer felt guilt. Slowly but surely the dog was gaining on it.
Begin with a subordinating conjunction (so a subordinate clause). e.g. Although he was starving, the man refused to eat. Because it was raining, the dog got wet.
Write a passive sentence i.e. object + verb. e.g. All the chocolates were eaten.
I suggest you continue to write however the words come out. Because the last thing you want to do is feel like you can't write unless it's perfect (or better).
Every day, go through a paragraph or two of your work and use S. Mitchell's excellent suggestions to revise it.
As time goes on, your revisions will be quicker because—in addition to being better at revising—you'll find that some of the work won't need revisions. You'll start to rethink sentence structure automatically.
You'll still have to revise your work; we all do! But, with more time and practice, this is another way that your writing will improve.
In addition to the excellent answers above, after you've completed a large chunk or the entire draft, use a grammar checker like grammarly or prowritingaid which check for repetition.
I use adverbs to start sentences a lot, and using the grammar checker showed me how many and where and I was able to use the techniques others mentioned to fix it. They also give suggestions of their own.
After doing this a few times, it starts to become more natural when writing drafts to start sentences in varied ways.
I think you are a non-native speaker (just like me), and you are using the thought patterns the grammar of your mother language to write in English. One thing that will help a lot is to read a lot. I took a two-month hiatus in my writing to read a ton of other novels in the same genre to pick up on how to make my writing feel more natural.
You can count on the reader's intellect to keep the phrases together as they infer their meaning. Your quote:
The dog ran through the rain-swept streets, chasing a ball he thought he'd lost. The ball was just ahead of him, always out of reach. The ball was red, difficult to see through the rain. The dog was gaining on it, slowly but surely.
Could convey the same meaning:
Chasing a ball he thought lost, the dog ran through the rain-swept streets. It was just ahead of him but always out of reach, its red form blurred by the rain. But he was slowly and surely gaining on it.
We identify the dog by 'he' in the first sentence, so when we say 'it' later, it refers to the ball. This way we avoid the second the. I moved the context of the scene and the conflict up front to make the reader position themselves before the protagonist is revealed, almost avoiding the first the. Joining the third sentence into the second and adding some flow into the fourth statement and there goes all the 'the' at the beginnings.
The third sentence is also a little case of show vs tell. We are already talking about the ball, and we can assume the rain is heavy (it is sweeping the streets) and we know it is hard to see things in heavy rain. Therefore we can surmise the color of the ball and the visibility issue with fewer words.
I would suggest reading more English poetry to pick up some techniques. Remember that the or the dog are words to highlight a specific thing, and that much of the time you can use sentence structure or the reader's imagination to know what you're referring to without having to be specific.
Chasing through the rain-swept streets ran the dog. He thought he'd lost it, but now the ball was just ahead of him, always out of reach. Rain clouded the streets, so he could barely see. Slowly but surely he was gaining on it,
dog through the rain-swept streets
lost ball chasing, always just ahead
always out of reach.
red hard to see through the rain.
fast sprinting gaining slowly
but surely soon in mouth.
Ovbiously there are limits to this unless you're James Joyce, but English is a very flexible language in sentence structure.
Just remove all the.
The articles are most useless feature of the language.
Articles are most useless feature of language.
This sentence has the same sense.
Adding to the collection of amazing answers already written here, I would advise you to restructure your sentences to express a more personal view after you have already written them. This method can work in any of your sentences. Let's take the first sentence in your paragraph as an example. You can do this with any other sentence:
The dog ran through the rain-swept streets, chasing a ball he thought he'd lost.
Instead of this 3rd person view, you can "come closer".
Droplets of rain dotted the heavy-breathing dog's fur as he chased the ball he thought he'd lost.
This way, you make it more personal with the dog. you make it easier to picture in your reader's mind and you also get rid of the "the" ;)
I love doing this with my writing. I always try to understand how to make it more personal.