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 Write a comment

  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?

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  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!

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  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…

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  8. “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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  9. Pingback: Sentence Length : neverthesameriver

  10. Pingback: Sentence Length | neverthesameriver

  11. 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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  14. 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.

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  15. 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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