How to Make Your Sentences Sing

singing sentencesI’m always excited when I stumble on a piece of writing advice I’ve never heard before. Something original. Something other than ‘cut out all unnecessary words’ (though this is something I tell my students often) or ‘write in the active voice’ (this is also good advice, for the most part). And let’s not forget ‘learn how to use semicolons properly or stop using them’ or ‘please GOD stop splicing commas’. All excellent advice. But I’ve seen (and said) each of these many times over.

Which is why I was overjoyed when I found this gem:

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.

— Gary Provost

Couldn’t have said it better myself (which is why I didn’t).

Photo by Caleb Roenigk.

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