Long and Short: Sentence Length for Writers

I heard about a writer whose editor rewrote the sentences of her novel so that they were all the same length. Don’t know which planet this editor was from, but most sentence writing advice cleaves to varying the length.
Writing Tip for Today: Remember my adage? There are only two kinds of writing; writing that works and writing that needs work. Just because Faulkner or James Joyce sometimes wrote long, long sentences doesn’t mean you should. On the other hand, writing too many sentence fragments is also a poor practice. Vary sentence length according to the kind of effect you desire, not solely for how literate or smart you look.

  • Long rambling sentences will slow the action, so be sure that’s what you intend. Beware of filler words such as it, there, very, big, little, really. Be specific and say what you mean.
  • Most of the time, reserve fragments for occasional use to highlight characterization, in dialogue or to punctuate fast action.
  • Resist the urge to use the semi-colon, except when absolutely necessary. Today’s readers prefer shorter, pithy sentences.
  • Be Grammatical. If you write a very long sentence, be sure there is subject-verb agreement, no dangling participles and that the sentence isn’t run on. For definitions of these conditions, consult your copy of Elements of Style or Eats Shoots and Leaves.
  • Don’t fall for the temptation to write long or short sentences based only on how the words sound. If the story gets lost, it’s only word play. And try not to make all your sentences the same length.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

3 comments on “Long and Short: Sentence Length for Writers

  1. Thanks for this Tip, Linda Clare! You’re a prolific writer of tips. How do we readers buy your book? My next book is on Memoir Writing and Publishing and I promise to quote you often and send link information to my readers!

    Until next time,

    Your Memoir Mentor

  2. Thanks, Jennifer. My novel The Fence My Father Built, is available in bookstores, on Amazon or at Cokesbury.com. I’d love to write a writing book, though. Maybe I’ll bundle up these tips and see if I can get something in the works. Thanks for reading my blog! ~Linda

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