This Sentence Has Five Words

Gary Provost, quoted in Roy Peter Clark’s (terrific) Writing Tools:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

It’s good advice, of course, but mostly I was impressed by the execution.

38 Comments

  1. Six words have a different tone. they are more vivid, less sludgy. Who knows why that should be? I don’t;do you or she?

  2. Very thoughtful and thought provoking! (Oh no, that’s five words! So, too, was that sentence. And this one as well.) Seriously great stuff! Phew!

  3. Love it! this was so much fun to read aloud. It really came alive. Keep up the good work.

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  5. It is so easy to be carried away by words and write long long sentences. Brevity has clarity and often the added attribute of wit. Say what you need and then shut up.

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  7. Amanda — make sure you spell it freshman with an “a” because it’s an adjective here, not a plural noun. Sorry…

  8. The only problem
    with haiku is that you just
    get started and then

    (Roger McGough)

  9. “It’s like a stuck record” has six words.

    Now try writing a sentence with a number of unmarked parentheses, notes and digressions and see if you can make it readable and euphonious.

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  12. Write every paragraph as if you were a Penticostal preacher. Let the words sing. Drive the vouls out like the thumping of a bass drum. Every sentence must build both in content and in structure until you can deliver the meaning, the punch line , the lesson in one final rolling thunder of a sentence. Leaving your audience breathless ….

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  15. Good exercise. I think it’s sometimes effective to “drone”: to create a voice, say, that is simple, childlike. As long as the writer knows what he/she’s doing with the rhythm, any cadence can work. The cadence will also be affected by the number of syllables in individual words.

  16. i am a teacher for middle school. I love this! I have been trying to explain this very thing to my students, but I am going to show this to them as an example. Great idea for an explanation of why people get bored with reading other’s writing!

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