For Reader Impact: Clarify Meaning and Vary Use of Long and Short Sentences

“For Reader Impact, Clarify Meaning and Vary Use of Long and Short Sentences” by Joan Y. Edwards

Are you frustrated by long sentences that do not have clear meaning? A sentence is too long when you can’t understand it. The meaning of short sentences can also be fuzzy.

A short sentence has fewer than 20 words.
A long sentence has more than 40 words.

Famous Authors Who Use Long Sentences

Charles Dickens was an avid long sentence writer.  Samuel Beckett, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald also love long sentences. Personally, I don’t like really long sentences because by the time I get to the end, I’ve forgotten what the point of the sentence is. But you can fix that. You, the writer, can make certain that every component of your sentence focuses on one main point.

Examples of Long Sentences:

Jake Goldman mentions this one sentence summary of  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

A panoramic view of five aristocratic Russian families in the early 19th century on the brink of a wee hurricane called Napoleon — all of which is interspersed with philosophical tracts grounded in Tolstoy’s particular idea that history isn’t marked by the broad, sweeping actions of powerful individuals, but rather that history is created by the will of the people and forever will be. 63 words

In his “65 Long Sentences in Literature,” John Matthew Fox shared a long sentence from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne.

“The French are certainly misunderstood: — but whether the fault is theirs, in not sufficiently explaining themselves, or speaking with that exact limitation and precision which one would expect on a point of such importance, and which, moreover, is so likely to be contested by us — or whether the fault may not be altogether on our side, in not understanding their language always so critically as to know “what they would be at” — I shall not decide; but ‘tis evident to me, when they affirm, “That they who have seen Paris, have seen every thing,” they must mean to speak of those who have seen it by day-light.”  107 words.

Examples of Good Short Sentences

One sentence listed in Jennifer Schaffer’s  “51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences In Literature” was:

“She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.” 21 words.

—J. D. Salinger, “A Girl I Knew”

Many great quotes and epigrams are short sentences.

If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.—Catherine the Great

Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.—Mark Twain

Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.—Native American proverb

For Reading Impact, Clarify Meaning in Your Sentences

Write clearly and concisely. Make all of your sentences focused on one subject, one point of view. Read it aloud. Leave it overnight. Read it aloud again.

Choose the simplest words to enhance the meaning of your sentences. Don’t use vague words. Use words that are specific in meaning to the situation in this particular paragraph of your book.

Even when writing a long sentence, each word and phrase should explain your point. It should build the reader’s understanding and keep them glued to the page. It should keep him highly interested in continuing reading your book. If it’s too complicated, the reader may drop out at that page and put the book down. He may never pick it up again. Not what you, the author, intended at all.

Impact your Readers Even More: Vary Your Sentences

Should you use all long sentences? Should you use all short sentences? It’s a good idea to vary your sentences.

  1. Use long sentences in a paragraph and end with a short sentence to sum it up or to make your final point. Reference.com says, “Use Short sentences, which may only contain a few words, to break the flow of the text and provide extra emphasis.”
  2. Use short sentences in a paragraph and end with a long sentence to sum it up or to make your final point.

Vary sentences for emotional impact to indicate the action going on in the story.

  1. Use a group of short sentences to create a choppy, nerve-racking situation.
  2. Use a group of long sentences
    • to mean everything in the story is fine and dandy.
    • to help the reader slow down and enjoy the ambience of the scenery or the relationship between two people.
    • to slowly anticipate deadly things happening in the near future

Enjoy your writing. It’s something you do really well. Stay safe. I am praying for you. I hope you enjoyed this post. I put lots of resources for you after my signature.

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Joan Y. Edwards, Author
Copyright © 2019 Joan Y. Edwards
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Resources

  1. Richard Nordquist. “Sentence Length:” https://www.thoughtco.com/sentence-length-grammar-and-composition-1691948
  2. Writer’s Relief. “Sentence Length: The Power of Placing Periods:”  http://writersrelief.com/blog/2011/06/sentence-length-the-power-placing
  3. John Fox.  “65 Long Sentences in Literature:” https://thejohnfox.com/long-sentences/
  4. Lenin Nair. “Power of Short Sentences:” http://cutewriting.blogspot.com/2008/06/power-of-short-sentences.html
  5. Writing Forum: “Short Vs Long Sentences” https://www.writingforums.org/threads/short-vs-long-sentences.22868/
  6.  “The Power of Short Sentences:” https://www.poynter.org/news/power-short-sentences
  7. John Mcchaud. “Long Sentences:” https://www.newyorker.com/books/book-club/long-sentences
  8. S-Cool Revise It. “Revise It: Varying Sentences:”https://www.s-cool.co.uk/gcse/english/writing-to-describe/revise-it/varying-sentences
  9. Changing Minds. “Short Sentences:” http://changingminds.org/techniques/language/persuasive/short_sentences.htm
  10. “How to Use Varied Sentence Lengths for Better Writing:” https://wordsbyevanporter.com/how-to-use-varied-sentence-lengths-for-better-writing/
  11. “Character Count Online:” http://www.charactercountonline.com/
  12. “Count Wordsmith:” http://countwordsworth.com/
  13. Martin Cutt. “Oxford Guide to English:” https://www.amazon.com/Oxford-Guide-English-Paperback-Reference/dp/0199669171
  14. Jennifer Schaffer. “51 Of The Most Beautiful Sentences In Literature:” https://www.buzzfeed.com/jenniferschaffer/i-am-i-am-i-am
  15. Demian Farnworth. The Copybot. “How to Write a Brilliant Long Sentence:” https://thecopybot.com/write-long-sentences/
  16. Open Culture. “5 Wonderfully Long Literary Sentences by Samuel Beckett, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald & Other Masters of the Run-On:” http://www.openculture.com/2014/07/5-very-long-literary-sentences.html
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One thought on “For Reader Impact: Clarify Meaning and Vary Use of Long and Short Sentences”

  1. GIVEAWAY COMPLETE:
    As it turned out, only one person left a comment on this blog post before midnight September 23, 2018 and that was Linda Andersen Gutheil. So Linda, you win a free critique of 1,000 words. Please send it to me at joanyedwards1@gmail.com.

    Thank you for reading my blog.

    Never Give Up
    Joan

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