The Long and the Short of it

Sentence Length

It seems to me that novels and also non-fiction books that were written more than 75 years ago had longer sentences. For me, this meant they were more boring to read, especially when I was still in elementary school.

Fortunately, to the great joy of most readers, this writing style has become less popular, and reading has become more enjoyable. Long sentences require more concentration to read. In a scene where the action is quick, it doesn’t make sense for the writer to tell about it in long sentences. That is a sure way to take the punch right out of the drama.

So is it best to use only short sentences? No. A mixture of longer and shorter sentences usually works best. At times, you could even just use one or two words to break things up. A one-word interjection adds emphasis as well. Notice the word “No” in this paragraph? You didn’t? Go back and look. See what I mean, how it changes things when you vary the sentence length?

In the “old days” when long sentences were more in vogue, these had to be written skilfully so as not to bore the reader. Some say that Hemingway had that skill. Perhaps he did, but I’ve tried reading two of his books and have put them down after a while because I found his long sentences so tedious to read. I prefer variety, at least in sentence length.

The same thing is true of paragraph and chapter lengths. Vary them, leaning towards shorter paragraphs and short chapters more often than long ones.

Even a one-liner can be emphatic.

Next time you write a scene, go back and have a look at your sentence length. If you have too many long sentences, or even if many of them are the same length, try for variety, and try to shorten some of the tediously long ones. Don’t throw away your original, but compare your work after you edit the sentence length and see if you like the one with variety better. I bet you will.


Do you know what, some say, is both the shortest and the longest sentence in the world?

It is “I do.”


13 thoughts on “The Long and the Short of it

  1. “I do”? X-3, that equals never again.

    I try to use different sentence sizes when I make a fairly-rare comment on a post when it happens. I’ve noticed some blogs use a sentence that must be 2 miles long, I won’t try to read it…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love the “I do!” Excellent advice, Anneli. My favorite authors create a lyrical quality that’s intoxicating, such as Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series. I’ve noticed how the tapering of sentence and paragraph lengths creates narrative drive for thriller and suspense novels.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Trying to say too much in one sentence can also get confusing. I’m a big fan of mixing up sentence sizes. For my character driven novels, I find that different sizes adds emotion. Nice post, Anneli.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. And I’m with you Anneli. I enjoy mixed length sentences in a paragraph, and don’t prefer long paragraphs or chapters, No surprise, that’s how I write. 🙂


  5. I try to vary sentence-length, Anneli, and it isn’t always easy. Prowritingaid has a sentence-length feature that shows me where to focus my attention (big chunks of 10-word sentences are my downfall). And great point about paying attention to paragraphs and chapters too. Reading a page-long paragraph makes me tired!

    Liked by 1 person

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