Maybe you never knew this, or maybe you learned it a long time ago and forgot:
Good writers are good at varying the lengths of their sentences.
Sentence length contributes to style, which contributes to meaning and also makes writing more interesting to read.
Here’s a quick example. Which is more interesting to read?
John left the house. He walked to his car. He turned the car on. He drove down the street. He got on the highway. He cruised at 60 mph. He arrived at work. It was 20 minutes later.
John left the house. He walked to the car, turned it on and drove down the street to the highway. He cruised at 60 mph all the way to work. He arrived 20 minutes later.
The content of the sentences is almost exactly the same, but the latter bookends two longer sentences with two shorter sentences, illustrating a simple concept:
Variety in sentence-length helps move writing along (even if the content is bleh).
What I love about this or any example is that the combinations are nearly infinite. Here’s a different version:
John left the house. He walked to his car and, after turning it on, drove down the street to the highway, on which he cruised at 60mph all the way to work. He arrived 20 minutes later.
Now there are only three sentences instead of four, and the long one is still bookended by two shorter ones.
Also, combining all the ‘driving’ action into the same sentence has an interesting effect, in that the sentence structure now mimics the movement of the scene. It makes more “sense” to start a new sentence at the same time the driving action ends and a new action begins — John arrives at work.
(If you ever wonder what writers do, this is it. We spend a lot of time playing with different combinations to get just the right effect.)
You can do this too
I want you to start mixing long and short sentences in your writing. To do it well, you’ll need to master two fundamental skills:
- Writing short sentences
- Writing long sentences
To help, I recommend reading these two books:
- Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark illustrates how to generate powerful rhetoric in as few words as possible.
- Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read by Brooks Landon is a great introduction to the benefits and techniques behind writing long sentences.
Both are filled with really good, practical tips, exercises and rationales for writing different kinds of sentences. Even if you only spend a short time each week practicing these techniques, the rewards vastly outweigh the investment. You’ll be on your way to developing a unique voice, rooted in the development of a personal style, whose writing projects real authority, vastly superior to the bland, fake-positive, message-driven, inauthentic style that is the default of less talented copywriters, content marketers and bloggers (they know who they are).
In other words, keep at it. Before long, you’ll be a pro.