Varying Sentence Lengths

One of the first thing an author learns when writing their novel is how to vary sentence lengths. Longer sentences allow the reader to relax, to know that nothing exciting or tense is coming up. In tense scenes, shorter sentences have the reader holding their breath, moving along in the sequence, to see what is about to happen.

These are great ways to keep a reader’s attention. They can easily follow the storyline if the sentences aren’t precisely the same length and include information that isn’t always necessary. It also allows the author to show the tension easily and not have to tell the reader that “a pivotal scene is coming up.”

Why do we need to shorten sentences when a pivotal scene is coming up? Better, why do you need to limit the number of long sentences?

Each of these elements is part of how good authors show their readers release or enhance the sentence in the scene. Long, descriptive sentences should always be limited. These tend to become boring, especially if they happen too often. A five to ten line sentence that is the whole paragraph will have the reader boring. String together too many paragraphs of these long sentences, held together with several conjunctions and your reader will be seeking another author, one who knows how to keep their interest.

The same can be said of short sentences. Use these only to introduce critical action rather than as a tool to keep the reader at a fast pace. Soon, they’ll feel breathless and tired.

Dialogue also plays into sentence length. People don’t talk in long, complicated sentences during tense moments. They speak quickly, sometimes in a rapid fire sequence.

As authors, it is our duty to ensure our readers the best experience possible in our books. Paying attention to sentence lengths and how we portray characters goes a long way to making a good book a great one.

About K.C. Sprayberry

Born and raised in Southern California’s Los Angeles basin, K.C. Sprayberry spent years traveling the United States and Europe while in the Air Force before settling in northwest Georgia. A new empty nester with her husband of more than twenty years, she spends her days figuring out new ways to torment her characters and coming up with innovative tales from the South and beyond.

She’s a multi-genre author who comes up with ideas from the strangest sources. Those who know her best will tell you that nothing is safe or sacred when she is observing real life. In fact, she considers any situation she witnesses as fair game when plotting a new story.

Find out more about my books at these media sites:


M.A. Cortez said…
Great tips and advice. Thanks for posting.
Cyn Ley said…
Just because Faulkner wrote a chapter that was one long sentence doesn't mean you should too! LOL!! Yes, there is such a thing as stream of consciousness writing, but it should be handled delicately and used with discretion in order to be effective.
Anonymous said…
Useful advise