Monday, August 05, 2013

The swirl and swing of words: Writing beautiful sentences

(This "golden oldie" NRJW post was originally published on December 21, 2010.)

Last night I read a book review complaining that a certain romance novel tried a reader's patience because the sentences were too short and simple. I immediately lost interest in the book. Choppy writing turns me off, too. It's almost insulting to be presented with the same banal prose I read in the first grade when we were supposed to be having all that fun with Dick and Jane: See Spot. See Spot run.

You might have noticed one of the quotes this blog's sidebar:

"I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions."

--James Michener

That first sentence gets straight to the point: I love writing. It gives us information but it doesn't engage our imaginations. It's the second sentence that does that. When we read, "I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions," we're drawn into a mesmerizing rhythm that arouses our feelings.

Short sentences tend to convey facts rather than elicit emotions. And since I read romance novels for the emotional ride, I'm not going to be interested in a book full of short sentences. I want novels with heart, novels that tantalize with words put together so beautifully that I'm caught up in their rhythm. I want stories that draw me in and carry me along. I want to feel like a passenger in a train car that rocks me gently as it speeds toward my destination. And it's primarily words that give me that experience. Plot is secondary.

So you'll see a lot of longer sentences in my writing. You might already have noticed that commas are my good friends. And I am positively in love with semicolons, I don't care how much bad-mouthing they get on writers' e-mail loops. The little darlings are darn useful for extending a sentence that's swinging along so well that I can't bear for it to end.

Of course I throw in the occasional short sentence to break things up. Paragraphs full of nothing but long sentences can be wearying, so I write in intervals, the same way I work out on my treadmill: fast, slow, fast, slow. It keeps things interesting. Also, the occasional stripped-down sentence is great for startling readers, for amusing them, and so on. I'm just careful to conserve their strength by employing them only when necessary.


Regina said...

I love longer sentences, too. Short, choppy sentences seem a little ADHD and make me nervous.
I guess that's why I'm still in love with the old 1980's and 1990's style of Romance novel. They were allowed to use longer sentences back then. :)

Brenda Coulter said...

Regina, thanks for chiming in.