1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Sentence length, how much do you pay attention to it?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by GingerCoffee, Aug 9, 2015.

    A couple people in my critique group on different occasions have commented that my sentence lengths were too similar. Some of what they say makes sense, a lot of my dialogue sentences have a repeating pattern (I'm working on that). But part of me wonders if same sentence length is something many people pay that much attention to?

    Most of the time what I learn from critiques, I find myself noticing in books I'm reading. But repetitious sentence length has never been something I've noticed. I see there is an existing tag for it. I'll have to check that tag out.
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I do pay attention to sentence length. I don't worry about it so much while I'm writing, but after I'm done and have entered the editing process, it's one of the main things I pay attention to. Reading out loud helps. So does getting somebody else to read out loud, while you listen.

    If your sentences are all the same length, they create an unintended rhythm that becomes very hard to ignore.

    Of course you can exploit that rhythm, if you want to use it. You can pull it out of the Writer's Bag Of Tricks, to emphasize a character's state of mind:

    Okay, these are technically not sentences—but hey. I don't possess @ChickenFreak 's uncanny ability to come up with astute examples at the drop of any old hat. Dangit. :)
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2015
  3. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    This has me intrigued. Can you provide an example, @GingerCoffee ?
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I went back and highlighted every other sentence in the relevant paragraph and they weren't the same length to me. But the first three sentences had the same structure. So looking just at those three sentences, maybe it was structure more than length that was the problem:

    I turned my face toward the sky, savoring the icy sensations of each falling snowflake. Larger ones landed on my tongue, melting into pure sweet nothings. The growing blanket of snow dampened the sounds of the forest creating another world, a safe world.
    When I take just those three sentences, I guess I do see the issue. But the rest of the paragraph changes up.

    Darn, one more thing besides repeating the same word too many times that I have to watch out for.
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think there is any problem with those three sentences. If you had three pages of that same rhythm, then I could see an issue. Three sentences? No. They set a tone for the paragraph.
     
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  6. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I agree with @Steerpike.

    It's a wood / trees issue I reckon. You could probably pull three contiguous sentences from any book of any calibre and find similar patterns. And I think the pattern is nowhere near as strong as

    I turned my face toward the sky, savoring the icy sensations of each falling snowflake. I opened my mouth wider; larger ones landed on my tongue, melting into pure sweet nothings. I looked around in wonder; the growing blanket of snow dampened the sounds of the forest creating another world, a safe world.

    That's a pattern you would be concerned with. What you've written is perfectly fine.
     
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  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Thanks. Sometimes asking the question helps one see the issues more clearly. I changed a verb structure for the middle sentence.

    I turned my face toward the sky, savoring the icy sensations of each falling snowflake. Larger ones landed on my tongue then melted into pure sweet nothings. The growing blanket of snow dampened the sounds of the forest creating another world, a safe world.
    I'll wait a while and see if that's all I need to do to the paragraph. The rest of it seemed fine to me.
     
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  8. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think sometimes in critique groups people are looking for certain things rather than reading the piece like a beta reader would.
     
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  9. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Do you find sometimes people just have to find something wrong? I have a tester at work who goes minute into details of trivial BS when there are no bugs, just so he can say he found something that needs to be fixed.
     
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  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, that's always something to take into consideration. It's especially galling when 'faults' get highlighted simply because the critique giver doesn't like your style. I've seen critiques on here by people who seem to love flash fiction, who hate adverbs and adjectives, and want everything written in the kind of style they prefer. Abrupt, and over with in a ...flash? That's fine, and they're entitled to their opinion. But a writer has to be able to say "Thank you for your input, but that's just not my style," once they've considered the point.
     
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  11. AspiringNovelist
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    AspiringNovelist Contributing Member

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    That paragraph is perfectly fine and well written. I'd only be concerned if the next 4 paragraphs were 3 sentences long AND each with a comma used as a independent clause join.

    If it still concerns you, then consider your use of commas.

    • Use commas to separate items in a series.
    • Use a comma in a compound sentence before the coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, for, yet, so) that joins the two independent clauses (complete sentences).
    • Use a comma to set off nonessential elements that precede, interrupt, or follow the independent clause.
     
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  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Actually, that's half a paragraph. But thank you for your compliment. :)
     
  13. Solar
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    Solar Contributing Member Contributor

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    To be honest, I find the alliteration in that sentence quite distracting.
    It would be good if you were writing alliterative poetry. But I don't think
    that's you intention.
     
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  14. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Sentence length can dictate a lot of things, such as tension levels and bluntness, but I don't think you should worry about such things unless you are specifically creating those kinds of scenes.

    I read a lot of classic stuff from around the late 19th century, and they tend to have a lot of long descriptive sentences which has influenced my style a lot. I'm also a big fan of punctuation tools such as the colon, semicolon, and em dash, which I hear publishers aren't so keen on these days. Overusing only periods and commas can result in an unnatural flow and dry writing in my opinion.

    So unless you're using sentence length to achieve a certain 'tension' or 'feeling' within your story, then I feel that sentence length doesn't really matter if it's structured properly using all the correct punctuation tools.
     
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  15. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I'm not sure savoring sensations of snowflakes in a single sentence is a big deal, but the single paragraph itself is an opening metaphor. The actual story starts in a new chapter. So a bit of poetic license I think comes off OK.
     
  16. Solar
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    Solar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Interesting. So the alliteration was intentional? Maybe you could turn it into alliterative verse.
    Just an idea. Won't be offended if you toss it into the memory hole.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2015
  17. GingerCoffee
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    It wasn't intentional. But I was going for a bit of a poetic flow in the paragraph. :)
     
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  18. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I found the sentences fine, they had a real nice flow - but maybe they would look symptomatic in a larger piece? Can't tell. Could be critiquers nit picking. I'm usually nailed on the things I know I'm having trouble with. I like to write an occasional rambling sentence but I usually never get anyone trying to fix the grammar with it - they're just like, ax it. Sigh.

    Am I conscious of my sentence length? Somewhat. I'll let a whopper sentence build and the only thing that worries me is the grammar holding it together, not the fact that it's long. I don't really look at things and say I haven't had a short sentence in a long time or I need to switch this up for variety. That will come in second draft but I've pretty much aligned my thinking to my style - so I'm automatically going for short, long, interrupting.

    As a person who likes sentence variety I might - might notice it. Maybe not, depends on how good the piece was. I find I'm more conscious of rhythm. If the words are hitting similar syllable tones, and certain set-ups - two adjectives, a sentence with two sets of verbs etc. then for me that would be a trip up.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2015
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  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Sentence length by itself is not something to which I pay too much attention. I naturally have a pretty varied length of sentences across the play of a paragraph. Some other things that I do pay attention to, which may also have length of sentence as part of their dynamic, have more to do with sentence structures that I am sometimes too fond of. I have this thing with describing Thing X with three different descriptors in a row. Useful for drama, but like any dramatic device, turns against itself when overused. And also the Louis L'Amour bullet statement. That's how it was described to me once by someone reading my work who was also fond of Louis L'Amour, who himself seems fond of the short, sometimes fragmentary sentence, all by itself as its own paragraph, meant to serve as an impact statement. I mention these things only because I have personally seen a tendency for repetitive sentence length to go hand in hand with repetitive syntax structures. A classic is when the writer gets caught up in the she verbed while she verbed and she verbed structure. Don't know why that one in particular crops up so much as a structure that people fall into using overmuch, but it does crop up with some frequency.
     
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  20. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Add chickenstock:

    I turned my face towards the sky, savoured - sensation of each falling snowflake upon my cheek. Large ones landed on my tongue, and melted into sweet nothing.

    'Mwoah hah hah. '

    A growing blanket of snow dampened sounds of the forest -and created another world, my world, my empire of ice...
     
  21. The Mad Regent
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    Larger ones landed on my tongue, melting into pure sweet nothings.

    I'd definitely change 'ones' to 'flakes' in this sentence.

    Larger flakes landed on my tongue, melting into pure sweet nothings.

    Pure sweet nothings perplexes me a bit as well. Maybe something along the lines of it becoming more a bitter kiss on the tongue?
     
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  22. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I pay a lot of attention to sentence length, since discovering I had a tendency to write sentences of a similar length, giving my prose a staccato and repetitive rhythm.

    Varying sentence length in a passage or paragraph can improve things massively.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2015
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  23. GingerCoffee
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    I thought about that but then worried 'flake' was repeated too soon.
     
  24. The Mad Regent
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    I considered the repetitive aspect as well, but I think the period and the switch from snowflake to flake nullifies the problem.
     
  25. matwoolf
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    Some people are a little robotic in their rhythms, others cannot even keep to the line. [GOOD] Prose is the high-wire. [EXCELLENT]

    One guy in a crit group, very masculine tendency wrote fiction, every line the same length, each paragraph of equal shape , forty-five paragraphs, all identical, always trying to write himself out of shape, but never could do it. I liked him, admired his manacles straight down to paper, bits of tooth and brain arranged as geometry, lost contact, but still writes - Math Cloud, I think we called him.
     
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