The power of sentence length
Here’s a question you might not see often: How long are your sentences? Do you write really long, descriptive sentences that give your reader a lot of information so they know just where they are, what your character is doing and how they’re feeling? Or are your sentences short? Are you a concise writer? Or do you tend to go on and on, filling in all sorts of information and details in order to build the world of your novel adding a sense of place and loads of atmosphere?
Why is this important?
Because the length of your sentences can affect how the reader reads—how fast or slow, and how they feel about what they’re reading. It affects the pacing of your story. It relays the feeling of the scene. It can add flow to your writing or take it away.
If things are happening fast or you’re writing a fight or battle scene and your sentences are long, winding, descriptive tomes the action just isn’t going to feel… well, active. But if your sentences are short, to the point—almost staccato—the pacing will pick up. Your reader’s eyes will fly down that page right along with the fists or words of your characters. If you are writing a romantic scene where your main characters are taking a slow stroll, but your sentences are short, you’re not going to get the languid feeling of romance.
People read short sentences quickly. They go really fast. It’s quick. It’s abrupt. It’s great for fights. Got snappy dialogue? Make it short. The pacing of the story will be fast. The action will be exciting. Short sentences. Short paragraphs.
But if you’re building your world, or allowing your reader to recover from an action scene, you can have longer sentences. Allow your reader to slow down their reading pace and you slow down the pace of the story giving your reader time to breath, to relax. You can fill your sentences with lovely metaphors or similes and allow your reader to wallow in the beauty of your world and the language you use to describe it. Fill your long paragraphs with feelings, emotions, thoughts, or analyzing what has been happening and what it all means.
Writing a part with a moderate pace? Then vary your sentence length. Have one really short sentence. Followed by another that is longer, that has a lot of information or description. This way your reader won’t get bored. You’ll keep their attention because they won’t know what’s coming next.
Short sentences highlight important things.
We do this a lot in nonfiction, why shouldn’t you do it in fiction as well? When something is really important, you make it short and have it alone in it’s own paragraph. When you do this, you reader’s eyes will pause for just a microsecond to note the importance of the sentence, what it says, and its implications.
The length of your sentences can add atmosphere. They can add heat or lack of it. They can add cadence to your writing to make it beautiful or turn it ugly to catch your readers attention.
Play with the length of your sentences, and see how they make you feel.