One of the most valuable things that I learned from my first judicial boss, who happened to also be a novelist, is that it’s important to think about the way that your sentence structures affect what you are trying to communicate. With him, the lesson was in the context of writing persuasive briefs and judicial opinions, but I’ve found that the basic lessons work the same for creative writing as well.
For instance, short and active sentences are more persuasive and powerful. If you want to de-emphasize something, you should put it in the middle of a paragraph, preferably in a complex sentence. Snappy writing has a lot of white space, while writing gets skimmed when it doesn’t have many paragraph breaks.
This has come in very handy. If I’m trying to foreshadow something but I don’t want it to leap right out at the reader, I should bury it in a list of mid-paragraph. And I should always put the most prominent parts of a description, the things that should really stand out, at the beginnings and ends of paragraphs.
You’d think I would have learned this stuff in school, but I think that a lot of what I learned didn’t have any mental scaffolding to stick to. Or maybe I did learn them, but simply forgot. At one point I could passably speak German, after all. Maybe that’s why doing actual writing on a regular basis, both fiction and nonfiction, has helped me become a better writer.