Tip Tuesday — Sentence variation

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

―Gary Provost

This is by far my favourite quote on sentence variation. Anytime I have a new client who has some issues with this, I always send along Gary’s quote. It’s much better than me just going on and on and on about sentence variation, why it’s needed, etc.

Buuuuut … in some cases a string of five-worded sentences is needed and works and doesn’t make the writing boring. If a writer is trying to convey fear or horror or an acute sense of anxiety, then having several short sentence in a row with the same amount of words works. Or, if they are trying to convey how bored a character or situation is, then it would work.

So Gary’s advice is spot on and in most cases really should be followed. In most cases. But sometimes, depending on what you are doing with a scene, even the best advice needs to be ignored.

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