Friday, November 27, 2009

Using Sentence Length to Your Advantage

“Another way to speed your pace is to use shorter sentences. When your characters approach danger or are fleeing from it, use short sentences to speed the pace and mimic the quickened heartbeat.” -- Elizabeth Lyon in “Apply a book doctor’s eye to your own fiction.” [The Writer, December 2009]

Sentence length is something I’ve learned to pay attention to when revising a story. I also analyze sections of stories and novels that I enjoy to see how the author uses sentence length to achieve the resultant effect. Some stories I’ve read use nothing but short sentences. This doesn’t give the reader time to take a breath. Writing only in long sentences can have the same effect on the reader. In the case of short sentences, the reader feels compelled to keep reading as the suspense builds. When reading one long sentence after another, the reader is provided few opportunities to take a break. I’ve read a couple of flash stories that were written as one long sentence. I found it difficult to stay interested through the entire piece. Finding the right balance between long and short sentences is an important part of the writing process. I find the best way to determine what works for a particular story is to read it out loud a few times.

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