Friday, October 12, 2012

Do you pay attention to your sentences?


For the past few months, I have been studying the way other writers use sentences in their stories. Using sentences in a perfect way is an art form which some writers have mastered and others (like me) need to concentrate and work hard on.

Great sentences have a zing to them. I have noticed that long sentences tend to drag and the pace slackens. Long sentences are good for inner dialogues. Well, we need lots of words to describe our inner tension. So the opportunity to use long sentences is grabbed by writers at that point.

But for descriptions, short sentences can be more effective. They hurry the description along.

She sashayed into the room. Like a Diva. Tall. Slim. Fair. Beautiful. Hair that rippled like water. Skin like satin.  

Shorter sentences also add tension. The abruptness of single word sentences can be quite impactful. Shorter sentences give a feeling of pace. They literally speed the story to the finish line.

I ran. The men sprinted behind me. Gaining speed. Closing the distance between us. Their hot breath fanned my neck.

Even for dialogues short sentences are more effective. It’s crisp and crunchy, much like potato chips.

“Listen to me. Go away. I want to be alone,” she said. “With my thoughts…”

I have noticed that great writing has a generous mix of long sentences interspersed with shorter ones. This keeps the fluidity of the pace. Paragraphs of long sentences can turn off readers. But when short sentences are mixed in, the attention doesn’t waver.

I have a confession to make. I am the wrong person to give any advice on sentences. At one time I wrote sentences that were so long that you could wrap your index finger around it two times over. My editor’s suggestion was “ keep the sentences shorter, please.” I am still working on that aspect of my writing. Hopefully, I am getting better. I am sure my two crit partners will be able to make out the change.

Do you notice the sentence structures while you read books or do your eyes just soak in the story without paying attention to the way a writer has created her sentences? When it comes to writing your own stories, do you ponder over the sentences? Or are sentences just a way to get the words across?  What’s your sentence style? Please share. If any of you want to share examples, it will be a great way for us to learn.

26 comments:

  1. i tend to not think about it too much when I write, but during revision I read what I wrote out loud and it becomes quickly evident where I've gone too long too often, and where lots of shorter sentences sound too unnatural.

    mood
    Moody Writing

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  2. "Using sentences in a perfect way is an art form . ."

    Pretty much sums up my feelings on the matter. I envy authors who get perfect use of each word in every sentence.

    .....dhole

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  3. True, it is challenging to choose the right length of sentences, Rachna:)

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  4. Good points Rachna. I love the examples. It's hard to know when it's okay to use short, not really sentences like in your examples. That's what I'm struggling with right now.

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  5. I don't think about it much while reading, but I do notice too many sentence fragments because it annoys me! In my writing I pay attention to it in revision. I have a mix of short and long. My short sentences are always sentences, though. I never write in sentence fragments.

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  6. I think about them when revising. Shorter sentences are always better for MG. I even started noticing the sentences in books I'm reading, if they stand out as being too long. Short and sweet is always better.

    Don't worry Rachna. Sounds like your crit partners will help you to keep your sentences easy to read. And that's what it's all about. Making sentences slide off the tongue of the reader in an effortless way. *waves*

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  7. My critique partners pointed out a lot of longer sentences because I was overusing 'and' and 'but.' I've gotten better at shortening and dividing sentences.

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  8. Sentence length is a matter of style. Long sentences do not bother me as long as they are easy to follow and understand. In fact, well-written long sentences suggests a higher mastery of writing. That being said, I tend to keep my sentences short, because my critique partners seem to think long sentences are a bad thing.

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  9. Hi friends..while I am writing the first draft, I just need to get the story out. Its in the later drafts that I ponder over the sentences, concentrating a lot during the revision and later in the editing stage.

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  10. I do often notice sentences! I like a good mix of long and short sentences as well. I have had teen writing students who could write sentences a mile long and then some. :) I always tell them that super long sentences are too much of a "mouthful" for readers, and we don't want our readers to get tangled in them. I love a good balance. :) Good topic!

    Have a great weekend,
    Karen

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  11. Like others, it's during revisions that I concentrate on sentence length and rhythm, not so much in the first draft. And reading my work out loud then helps me 'hear' sentence needs that I missed in read-throughs :-)

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  12. I do notice, but that's because when it's done well, I get jealous. lol

    Mixing sentence lengths is a great way to get in voice. A long rambling sentence has a different voice to short, zippy ones.

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  13. Mine is a mixed bag. It alters pace and as you say keeps it crisp. That's what I think it does and I hope I am right. You could tell me better though.

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  14. I've noticed sentence length since I started trying to improve my own writing. My style is long--I really love extended passages and will insert semi-colons and hyphens everywhere if I let myself go.

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  15. I always try to mix my sentences. A combination of long and short is the way to go.
    One/two word sentences, is a great way to build and sustain tension.

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  16. I try to keep my sentences short. Shorter sentences convey more tension and a faster pace.

    Jai

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  17. I notice sentences. I mix the long with the short.

    I used to write extremely long sentences with few short sentences. I believe that can be too heavy for the reader.

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  18. I agree with Moody--often the second round I find that mix of short and long works, and I cut out the too many shorts and too too longs.

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  19. I've been a bad blogger and friend! It's been a while since I popped over to say hi. I shall be better from now on.

    Sentence length, and the way different authors use them, has always fascinated me. I struggle with authors who use overly long sentences because my own style is short and snappy. I have even given up on books because of sentence length. For example, Dean Kootnz will take 30 words to say what Stephen King will say in 12. Another more extreme example is Ray Bradbury. In Something Wicked This Way Comes he used sentences with 60+ words. I forgot the point of the sentences by the time I reached the ends.

    Having said all of that, I have now learnt that a mixture of short and long sentences works better than either extreme. Sometimes I need to slow the pace down, and this is where longer internal dialogue sentences work best.

    Great post!

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  20. I definitely pay attention to varying my sentence lengths an structures when I edit. Whether I do it well is another thing. :-)

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  21. I obsess about sentence structure. I like to mix it up with short and long like you say. I love fragments, like you have in some of your examples. It drives my husband crazy, but it's a stylistic choice.

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  22. I love the flow sentences give to a story. They add sound and pace. My style is to mix it up depending on the mood I want to create within the story.

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  23. Not the wrong person at all, not all the time you speak so wisely! Interesting thoughts are always worth reading.

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  24. Guilt of londwinded sentences too. Sometimes it's easier to be verbose than succinct.

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  25. I adore long sentences with lots of description that falls into the literary fiction category, though i immediately notice when they are just being used as filler to make up a chapter. I also enjoy quick fire sentences in action scenes but am not a great fan of that style of writing over the whole of the book. Yes I do look at sentence structure and the sign of a good author is when you realise you've forgotten to monitor the writing but something shouts out at you as you are reading as masterful. I was reading kate Akinson's Case Histories and was most impressed with her writing.

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