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Sentence Length

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How long should a sentence be?

Here's a better question: how long is a piece of string?

When wrapping a parcel, you cut your piece of string to suit the work it has to do. The same approach applies to sentences. Know what you want your sentence to do and lengthen or shorten it accordingly. The following guide could help you do that.

Contents:
  1. Why Varied Sentence Length Matters
  2. Short Sentences
  3. Long Sentences
  4. Sentences Are Your Tools. Use Them As Such.

Why Varied Sentence Length Matters

Consider the modern reader as easily bored. Experts tell us that our attention spans are becoming shorter thanks to our diet of TV and time spent online. Many readers will skim over a wall of text, oftentimes missing the crucial points of a piece of writing.

The writer’s job is to cater to the reader. A plethora of long sentences will have the reader nodding off, while a stream of short sentences will have the same reader rushing and skimming to get through the passage.

How then, to have and hold your reader's attention? Use varied sentence length.

Let's take a look at when and how to use sentences of all sizes.

Short Sentences

Use short sentences to introduce a point or an idea in creative writing. In an opening chapter, short sentences will hold the reader’s attention while they prepare to immerse themselves in the story.

Don’t forget the value of short sentences to build up tension and when describing fast actions. Remember, a car crash or street brawl never happened in slow motion!

After a series of longer sentences, don’t underestimate the ability of a short sentence to ensure that your reader is still paying attention. When writing an essay or article, short sentences in the concluding paragraph will help the reader remember what they have already read.

Long Sentences

Longer sentences are essential for descriptive passages and creating mood or atmosphere. When wanting the reader to appreciate an idyllic setting or luxuriate in a particular atmosphere, long sentences will allow them to do that. However, when an atmosphere is tense or fearful, revert to shorter sentences to mirror the increased heartbeat that the character (or even the reader!) may be feeling.

Sentences Are Your Tools. Use Them As Such.

Like that piece of string you use to tie your parcel, consider your sentences as the wrapping for your piece. Adjusted to the right length, they will ensure your work is perfectly presented.

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Liz is a freelance writer and English teacher. Living in Ireland she has ventured into the self-publishing world posting her first novel on Amazon in January. She is a self professed grammar and spelling fiend. When not writing she can be found reading and caring for her family.