Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Writing Tips: Using Sentence Length to Mirror Action

Long, short, and in-between: more is communicated in the length and rhythm of our sentences than most of us suspect. One of language's most fascinating tricks is its ability to mirror the action it depicts.

For example, look at this piece of narrative:

"The squirrel fidgeted, twitching its tail, as I inched closer with my hand outstretched. It bit me, and I yelled."

Shortening the sentences and rearranging them slightly sharpens the action:

"The squirrel fidgeted. I inched closer, my hand outstretched. Its tail twitched. Suddenly, it bit me. I yanked my hand back with a yell."

Fidgeting, twitching, and biting are short, sharp actions. The sentence length mirrors them.


By contrast, some actions are better expressed in long, flowing sentences:

"The water danced. It flowed over the rocks. The sun sparkled on it."

The flow of water is a continuous thing, and the sentence can show that in its length and structure:

"The water danced and flowed over the rocks, sparkling beneath the sun."


Until next time, happy writing, and may your pen be ever blessed!

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22 Comments:

Anonymous Anavrea said...

Very true! :) I don't always remember it when I am writing, but when going through the editing process it is very good to use this guide. :)

9:55 AM  
Blogger Karla Akins said...

What a great tip! Thanks for sharing it! :-) And thanks for stopping by my blog!
http://homeschoolblogger.com/karlakakins
http://homeschoolblogger.com/love4books

1:33 PM  
Blogger Mimi said...

great tip~ thanks!

9:17 PM  
Blogger Nancy Famolari said...

Great tip. It's good to remember that the length of sentences contributes to the mood. Thanks!

6:11 PM  
Anonymous Aster said...

Truly makes sense! I must remember this when tempted to use run-on sentences :) Many thanks!

1:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you!!!

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you.Loved the way of explaining it.

1:50 AM  
Blogger Sean Pyle said...

gnThank you for the insight!
-Sean

11:11 AM  
Blogger tomas cole said...

Thank you for sharing, makes sence

12:45 AM  
Blogger tomas cole said...

Thank you for sharing, an excellent comment.

12:51 AM  
Blogger BilboBaggins said...

I read something like this a long time back, and I had almost forgotten it.Your post brought it all out..bubling brooks, insipid sky,colorful life..

What do you think about taking a para/stanza from a poem and modifying it to drive your point (of course mentioning everything at the end).Is there anything unethical about it?

An example can be found on my blog where I have used this technique twice or thrice? What's your opinion?
I've quoted KIPLING and then I have added a stanza of my own..
http://salesgyaan.blogspot.in/2012/02/selling-by-research-sbr-and-six-serving.html

Is this unethical? Will appreciate an answer

5:11 PM  
Blogger Juvy Dela Rosa said...

Makes a lot of sense. Thank you.

8:39 PM  
Blogger Sandy Cee said...

Great tip. However as a reader, I much prefer this example to the next one you have:
"The squirrel fidgeted, twitching its tail, as I inched closer with my hand outstretched. It bit me, and I yelled."

The other example you have as a corrected piece is a little too conjuncted..
"The squirrel fidgeted. I inched closer, my hand outstretched. Its tail twitched. Suddenly, it bit me. I yanked my hand back with a yell."
I don't like the "Suddenly, it bit me. I yanked my hand back with a yell."
Sorry, apart from that, I do like your tip :)

3:43 AM  
Blogger Don Kronick said...

This is a very great tip for me, as I am working on writing my very first book of poetry and plan to publish. Than you for sharing the great knowledge.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Mohd Suhaimi said...

wow!!! Great entry you got there.. this is what I'm looking for.. a good simple tips for mood writing.. sometimes, we didn't realize the tone and mood we'd set in our writings~ Great job!

11:09 PM  
Blogger Gare said...

Great post,thanks.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Gare said...

Very honest,thanks a lot.
http://www.bestptc.org

2:24 PM  
Blogger aaron thompson said...

Great article. I actually discovered this by myself. Because of the way society functions this is going to be more and more common as our generation grows.....Could've reworded this as following.
I discovered this because society functions are presumably shifting towards a more direct wording of words as our generations grows. Sorry kinda in a rush so not much thinking there but a definite improvement. Anyways the biggest concern i have is that while yes "cleansing your sentencing is compared to sanitizing your body and soul you have to take consideration of the individuality of that sentence. I think its insensible and iniquitous. Just think about the social and moral impact this has on societal itself. But i digress aha. Anyways thanks to this i will now be more able to interact with employers and people higher up but i will never ever forsaking myself and my idealism when it comes to writing.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Graham Osano said...

This is very true, I like it

7:29 AM  
Anonymous Sachin said...

Thank very much for this it helps me a lot.....

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is a good idea you're right

10:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanking you, for the useful purpose this blog has served.

8:33 AM  

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