The Long and Short of Sentences

English: SVG rendition of the infamous Gonzo fist

I’m blogging. Give me a tight, snappy sentence. Let me move on, quickly.

I’m working on a new fiction novel. I need those longer, more polished sentences, the ones with choice, moving descriptive words and a tantalizing flutter that carries me deeper into the story line.

Get it?

They’re both good. They both have their right place. It’s one of the profundities and pleasures of writing. You can change it up, mix it around, make the sentences keep a rhythm and count that pulls your readers along the story line. Both work well. It all depends on your audience and the kind of reading experience you’re offering.

I’m not an experienced blogger but I am an experienced journalist. I thrive on short sentences. I enjoy the rapid movement, the pitch of motion they imply. I want my reader to move along quickly, get the point, heave a chuckle, whatever. I’m not looking for the lingering reader when I write an article. That’s for the novel.

Either way, tight is right when it comes to any sentence. Give it just what it needs but no more. Each word should count. If it doesn’t, blow it out of there and stay tight with your reader. There’s no bigger turn-off than a sentence that ho-hums around, drags itself on for too long, bores the reader. Reading cannot be work. No matter how deeply you’ve fallen in love with your words, be a vicious editor. Slice and dice with abandon.

On the journalistic side of the business, short sentences set the pace for your article. If the sentences move quickly and easily, so does the reader’s mind. Content and motion are the key elements. Set a quick pace, a snappy tune, and carry it through to the end. Make your point and move on. No lingering.

I suspect this also works best for most blog posts, excluding poetry or longer pieces. When I cruise through various blogs, which I do often, my eye is caught by the snappy, tight first sentence or two. If it moves, I jump in. If it drags, I pass on the post. Perhaps this is nothing more than a journalistic hangover. Not sure. But, for me, tight writing and quick sentences make all the difference for blog reading.

For longer fiction pieces, I tend to dump the snappy rule. Longer sentences work, so long as they feel snug and meaningful. My favorite writers mix and match both short and long sentences. When the writer wants to move me along, the sentences become shorter, the read quicker. I can feel the tension and pacing pull me along. When the story line calls for it, the same writer can let me catch my breath with longer, more polished and intricate sentences. They dance together well. They keep me following the story line.

So, is one better than the other? No, of course not. But, from a traditional blogging point of view, from the eye of a journalist, snappy, well-paced sentences will always catch my eye. When I want to get into a serious novel, the rule changes a bit, though I’m still looking for the shortest way home.

See Tight is Right for a little more about this subject. It’s a predictably short read.

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