Ebb and Flow of Sentences: Making a Scene Move

Today’s post is going to be a little short. It addresses something that’s never short and something I see beginning writers do all the time. I fell into this trap too when I was first starting out. Writing long arduous sentences because that’s what important writers do.

Writing is hard and when your shown classical literature after classical literature in school, you gain a weird perspective on writing.

It’s like short sentences are bad. You aren’t a real writer then. You aren’t like the greats. You aren’t descriptive enough.

The sentences you just read wouldn’t be found in a lot of classical novels you’re forced to read in class. Some of the greats spend pages upon pages describing the color of someone’s shirt as if the significance of it will actually matter for the plot. My sentences were short. They were conversational, and they moved you along the page much faster than the sentence I wrote after.

Photo of winding building provided by Peter Ivey-Hansen on unsplash.com.

Varying the length, intensity, and structure of your sentences are crucial to making a scene move. Not every scene or sentence needs to be long and wordy with a thousand commas and a dozen adjectives. And honestly, if you’re someone still trying to figure out your writing, don’t worry about being long and wordy like the illustrious greats you’ve been reading since you were thirteen. You can channel your own Shakespeare or Jane Austen in your revisions.

First, you need to figure out your genre, or a vague understanding of your genre. YA novels don’t lend themselves to long, wordy prose while historical fiction or literary fiction might. Then figure out the feeling of the scene.

If your scene is like a fight, use shorter sentences with more impact. Throwing in a longer sentence here or there for your reader to breathe. Think of how comic books use onomatopoeias to show the impact of their action. The same works here. Short sentences are like punches…even when punches aren’t involved.

When it’s something like a romantic scene where everything feels soft and calm, keep the sentences longer, sweeter, full of descriptions. Cradle the reader in the experience. Make them feel all warm and fuzzy too. Short sentences have their place here too–giving the reader the same heart racing feeling of falling in love, but overall, it shouldn’t be exhausting like a fight might be.

But most of all, don’t worry if you don’t write long and winding sentences. And don’t worry if you do. All theories of writing mean nothing to your first draft. Write first, worry later.

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