The Long and the Short of It

I like short sentences. I also like long, rambling soliloquiies of prose that take you on a journey of twists and turns, of loops and curls, that almost (but not quite) lose you on their convoluted meanderings only to bring you back safely in to land; sometimes with a bump.

Horses for courses, of course.  A short sentence serves its purpose, as does a long one – the key is to know when to use each kind. This quote from 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing by Gary Provost explains it beautifully.

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.

Gary Provost is a name that I have only just come across, but I really think I ought to start reading some of his books. In this post on his website Provost says some things that are echoed in points made by Pinker in his new book, on which I commented in this post.

 

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