The Long and Short of It

It’s sometimes overlooked, but the length of a sentence is just as important as the words, metaphors and similes we choose. Varying the length of sentences can prevent a piece from sounding too monotonous and adds momentum.

It all depends on the scene. If the scene is more reflective, where most of the action takes place on the inside of my characters’s heads, or I’m describing the setting, then the sentences tend be longer, more lyrical, and flowing.

Whereas, if the scene involves a lot of external action, and the action is moving quickly, the sentences tend to be shorter, simpler. To suggest pace. Action that’s happening quickly and urgently. Sometimes I ignore grammar. And just increase the pace. Quicker and quicker. Faster.

Here are a couple of examples.

Example 1 – Two lovers taking a stroll through a park

Brian held Emily’s hand tighter, their fingers marrying in that moment as the late afternoon sun settled behind the cherry trees and the blossom drifted like snow; the warm spring breeze lifted the delicate scent of her perfume to him as clouds of starlings gathered and swelled before disappearing into the horizon. Everything seemed to move and converge towards this single perfect moment. He looked at her, smiled and kissed her lips again. ‘I love you.’ he said.

How would that sound with shorter sentences?

Brian held Emily’s hand. The sun settled behind the trees. The blossom looked like snow. Starlings flew by and disappeared. Everything seemed perfect. He kissed her. ‘I love you.’ he said.

Doesn’t work quite so well does it?

Example 2 – A man is being pursued through a city at night

Tom ran fast. As fast as he could. His legs burned. He felt like giving up. The heavy rain soaked him through, weighing him down. He looked back. They were still there. Five of them. Five angry strangers chasing him in this strange town. Oh! My God, he thought. He was going to die. The crowds closed in. Pushing and pushing him. Farther and farther back.

And with longer sentences?

Tom ran as fast as he could, his legs almost giving way as the acid burned deeper in his muscles, willing him to give up, wanting him to collapse there on the street. The heavy autumn rain soaked him through as he looked back, and there they were, five of them, five angry strangers who pursued him through this strange town. He couldn’t believe it, panic filled him as he looked at them, he knew that night he was going to die. He headed into the crowds that pushed him like tides farther and farther back towards them.

Works okay but lacks the pace and urgency.

There are no hard and fast rules about sentence length, but as you can see, by varying them within your writing, you will change the pace and add an extra element of interest.

So don’t just concentrate on your words and forget about the length and flow of your sentences, how these sound and read, how they affect your readers’s experience of your piece. It’s important.

© 2016 Occasional Dreams
In response to daily prompt: Urgent

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