Short, Long or Both?

“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.”—Gary Provost   MAKE EVERY WORD COUNT: Proven Techniques For Effective Writing-For Fiction and Non-Fiction  

This quote above is currently making the internet rounds, though it was written in 1990. Someone started the viral trend, and it’s taken off, for good reason. Now I’ve not read the book by Provost, but I’ve read numerous other books on how to write, and based on this quote, I’d said Mr. Provost is correct. Damn correct.

The quote above says is all, things I’ve learned and shared with other writers. Prose isn’t just about forming sentences in sequential order to form a story. It’s about flow and pattern. One thought leads into another with a lilting wave of predictability. That’s not to say it’s boring, but rather that the human mind searches for a rhythm in the words and structure. Prose, like poetry, has it own beat. When it’s disturbed, the mind is jilted in what I call a literary speed bump.

These speed bumps can be deliberate to cause shock, but when they’re not deliberate, when they’re created due to poor writing skills, then the prose becomes tedious, dull and yanks the reader from their imagination. How you form your sentences is just as important as your grammar, spelling and vocabulary. It’s part of your style, your voice. It’s what draws your readers in, entangling them in a sticky net of pleasure or pain or suspense.

Variety is the spice of life, so to is it the spice of prose.

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