On Writing: The Short & Long of Sentences

Sentences can be as short as one, two, three words or as long as two compound sentences. The length controls the emotion of the scene. Short sentences quickly moves action. Longer sentences slows the scene.

Short sentences portray tense, fast moving action.

He stopped. Looked. Listened. Nothing. He moved on.

Doesn’t give a lot of information, but it does move the reader quickly into a more important scene. These few sentences tell you that the hero is moving fast. There’s nothing threatening. He’s creeping up on an enemy, either on a fact finding mission or preparing for an attack. He’s in control because there’s no danger, he fears nothing and the reader doesn’t fear for his safety.

Here’s the same sentences still short, but with a little more detail.

He stopped and listened. Nothing. He peered into the darkness. Nothing. He silently moved on.

You get the same feeling of quickness and the same felling of our hero having being in control.

Here is a combination of short and long sentences. The short sentences give a sense of urgency. The longer sentences slow the read down while describing in detail the possibility of a threat.

He froze. Was that footsteps? Scrapping? Nature’s ambient noise? It was difficult to tell. In the stillness, every sound seemed significant and threatening. He peered into the darkness. Shadows blended making it difficult to tell what was real and what was imagined. How could he be sure if all was secure, but how long could he remain locked in fear. He moved on.

The extra detail heightens the tension. Our hero is no longer in total control. There might be some thing or some one in the shadows ready to strike. Now the reader fears for his safety.

The combination of sort and long sentences give both action and tension, which heighten the emotions in scenes.

The combination of sentences isn’t just for action, The same tension can be used to portray emotion, like Romance. (I don’t write sex scenes so I give no advice there.)

To say, They kissed, and move on, won’t cut it.

Your audience wants to feel the romance of the moment; give it to them. Slow the moment down to one detail at a time, but at the same time, give the tension of feelings.

He stared directly into my eyes. I couldn’t glance away. He slowly moved closer. I couldn’t move.

My heart. My heart! It wouldn’t settle.

He continued to float closer. He bowed his head. I tilted my chin up. Our lips brushed ever so lightly then separated. He wanted to see how I’d respond.

I was frozen in place. I could neither move closer nor step away, nor could I kiss him back. I stood there, breathless, waiting, fearing I might cry at all the missed opportunities.

After what seemed like an eternal second, his lips came back, pressed in . . . Oh my God! I felt that kiss all the way down to my toes.

Here you get her fear of what might be and what could have been. Then you get the moment and satisfaction of the kiss.

Just putting words on a page does not tell the story. The manner in which use those words in your sentences do.