Why do you advise against starting a sentence with a dependent clause? Starting a sentence with a dependent clause can be a way to break up repetitive structure, or when the writer wants to lessen immediacy for some reason. If it occurs in a logical sequence and is used sparingly, why is this bad? I see this in great novels that have sold well all the time. I'm not saying that just because my favorite author gets away with something I should do it, but it would be helpful to know.
A dependent clause — also known as an embedded or subordinate clause — is a piece of sentence that's usually set off by a comma and can't stand alone.
Here are come examples of sentences that begin with a dependent clause:
• Using a rake, he chased off a burglar.
• When Penny went to the next party, she told herself not to laugh so loud.
• Until he could control his Great Dane, Corky, Mark decided to avoid public places.
Dependent clauses make the reader wait to figure out the sentence:
• If Marci had any hope of winning... (and?)
• Gertrude, who until she was four refused to brush her hair... (and?)
Now compare that to a simple sentence that states what's going on in chronological order:
• Marci wanted to win. Therefore she decided to practice four hours a day until the competition.
• Gertrude refused to brush her hair until she was four. Then she requested a pixie haircut. Then she never needed to brush her hair.
Dependent clauses create longer, more complex sentences that make readers work a little harder. Sentences without dependent clauses are shorter and create a faster, cleaner, more straightforward tone.
So which is better?
As Isis suggests, there are legitimate reasons to use dependent clauses. The usage can vary sentence structure and keep the prose interesting while creating a more flowing tone.
The problem is that writers often use dependent clauses without thinking about how often they use the sentence structure and how doing so affects the tone. That and it takes more time and effort to rearrange the wording to see if a straightforward delivery is more effective.
When she was young, Ruby couldn't wear enough pink. But now that she was older, she preferred to wear black. When she left the house these days, she wore black jeans, a black coat and a black leather bracelet with metal spikes.
Ruby turned thirteen and traded her pink unicorn shirt for black jeans, a black concert T-shirt and a wide leather bracelet with metal spikes.
Which one is better? That depends on the story and the audience.
The point — and what Isis implies in her question — is that we writers be conscious of how we arrange words. That may seem obvious to the point of absurd, but sometimes we're so excited to tell a story that we don't keep track of the mechanics and so fall back on habit and repetition.
We can do anything we want and should, so long as we decide what we're doing and why we're doing it, then solicit feedback to see if the technique helps us achieve our goals.
Now that I've said my piece, what say you on the subject, fellow writers?
Thanks for the question, Isis.