Sentence Length Matters: The Anatomy of a Perfect Paragraph

Writersdontcry Dr EmoticowBefore we think about it, every sentence we write is pretty much the same. He did X. He did Y. Ready-set-repeat. But this is boring. Apocalyptically boring. And even our seven-year-old selves can figure that much out. Who wants to read an endless laundry list of he-did, she-dids? But figuring out what to do about it, without starting to sound like Yoda? That is an entirely different matter.

What we’ve instinctively recognized is that talking about something interesting is not enough. A good paragraph also has varying sentence lengths, a good rhythm, and a word order that places the emphasis in the right spot. A paragraph that has all of these things, and an interesting subject matter, is a quick and easy read. Without these things, even a pulse-pounding fight scene will prove dense, slogging, and mechanical--at best.

You’d think the solution would be easy, given the problem. Just mess with the sentence structure more, right? But that’s like painting your whole face red to hide one pimple. The problem is not actually the sentence structure—that’s just a symptom. The problem—often anyway--is insufficient variance in the focus, distance, and subject matter discussed. But fixing it is a tricky issue! So, next time you find yourself slipping into he-did, she-dids, are a few tips on how you can break out of that pattern, and find a better rhythm.

Sentence Length Matters
"He could hide within his body. He’d fled to someplace very deep. She’d searched his internal organs. She’d searched his mouth and eyes. She found his soul in his liver. She followed it into a dream." —an incredibly, horribly mutilated quote from The Shadowed Sun (N. K. Jemisin)

When every sentence is the exact same length, as it is in the above mutilated sample (composed entirely of eight-syllable sentences), the effect is monotonous and boring, no matter how exciting the subject matter. But one thing that helps is to make it more specific.

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