The Short and Long of Sentence Structure

Dcp_0372Students of creative writing are frequently reminded to use a variety of sentence structures in their works. Because of the sheer number of linguistic structures that can be brought into play in a single English sentence, the complete list of sentence structures may well be infinite. In this discussion, we’ll stick with the basic categories of short sentences and long sentences.

Short sentences are powerful. Hemmingway was famous for them. His characters were blunt, more often than not. They spoke bluntly. They acted bluntly. Their feelings came across with a grim clarity, portrayed just as much by the sentence structures as by the words those structures contained. Although you need not go to Hemmingway’s extremes when using them, you should use short sentences whenever you want to draw the reader’s focus. Our minds linger naturally on information that they can grasp with ease. Information contained in a short sentence will stand out in a paragraph composed of longer sentences.

Although long sentences do not pack the same punch as their shorter counterparts, they are a delight to both the writer and the reader when they are well-crafted. Although you must take care not to let a single sentence run on too long, using these elegant, flowing structures can help you present ideas beautifully and link them together smoothly. Depending on how you structure the clauses within your long sentences, you can easily convey a range of moods and emotions from contemplative calm to mind-freezing panic.

Just like you should know how a vegetable tastes before adding it to a salad, you should contemplate the effect of a sentence structure before using it to add variety to your prose. Long sentences and short sentences both have their strengths, their weaknesses, and their distinctive effects on the meaning of your writing. Choose them and use them with care and purpose, and they will add delightful variety to your prose.