Whatever you’re writing, there’s one sure-fire way to make your prose more engaging:
Vary the length of your sentences.
Rather than explain why this is important, I’m going to give an example:
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. – 100 Ways To Improve Your Writing, by Gary Provost
You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that Gary’s second paragraph is way better paced than his first.
3 Ways to check if you’ve got enough sentence variation:
I always find self-diagnostic checklists helpful, so with that in mind here’s a couple of ways to assess your sentence variation:
1. Read your writing out loud
Reading out loud is a super-useful tool for identifying paragraphs that lack sentence variation. In fact, reading out loud is useful for any type of editing.
This is the most time-consuming and difficult method to improving your sentence variation. However, it’s probably the most useful.
If you struggle to read 80 000+ words out load, use windows narrator or a similar text-to-speach program to do it for you!
2. Use Pro Writing Aid‘s inbuilt ‘sentence length check’.
Pro Writing Aid is a piece of editing software. One of it’s 25 reports analyses your sentence variety, letting you know how well you’re changing up your sentence lengths.
Here’s what it said when I analysed Fight of the Cargo Hauler, my sci-fi short story:
According to the report, my sentence variety was 2x more than the recomended minimum.
3. Develop an eye for variation.
Once you start conciously deciding to write varied sentences, you’ll get better at spotting when you need more variation. Over time, writing varied sentences will be ingrained into your writing!
What are your thoughts on varying sentence lengths? Is it something you conciously strive to do? Do you notice stories where there’s a lack of variation? I’d love to hear your thoughts!