Writing is a form of preserved talk, talk that has been pinned down on paper so the words can be heard again. The basic principles of good writing, apart, from grammatical correctness, might be presented as follows:
1) written sentences should sound like natural speech;
2) the words we use must be exact, fresh, full of strength and vitality. Picture making words are better than vague, general words;
3) fresh point of view will give flavor to the style;
4) humor will lighten it.
Though, it is true that written sentences should sound like natural speech, they fully present an image of the natural speech. The reasons for this are fairly obvious: natural speech is a great deal more than words; it is also tone of voice, facial expression, gestures, and even the speaker’s appearance.
The whole point of writing is to create something better than we really talk – something more interesting, more thoughtful, and more effective in every way, for “effectiveness is what matters, and if an expression is confusing, ambiguous or unintentionally vague, it can hardly be an effective use of the language.” (C.R.E.Parker).
The only thing we must borrow from the natural speech to achieve an air of naturalness is the rhythm of speech. Now before we speak of sentence rhythm at more length, we shall consider one of the major qualities of writing – sentence length.
To begin with, fashions in sentence length constantly change. Past generation were more hospitable to the long sentences than we are, and prose writers sometimes created sentences 200-300 words long. They are often well-arranged sentences too; after all, the thought they convey is complex and can be hardly skimmed through. Indeed, some of them present the works of art.
In the twentieth century, the tendency in writing has been toward shorter, easier-to-grasp-at-one glance sentences.
- This tendency can be easily explained by the spread of the literacy among masses of people.
- Consequently, the style of writing should be clear and comprehensive for everybody, and aimed at satisfying the demand in easy and interesting reading.
- The increase in the tempo of living and absence of leisure-reading matter must be fitted to the needs of those who read only in the odd moments of their lives, between household chores and television programs, business meetings and social duties.
Hence, what can be inferred from the length of the sentences the writer uses?
Indeed, sentence length and grammatical complexity vary from writer to writer, from idea to idea, from sentence to sentence. There can’t be any general rules, which every person, who starts writing should strictly stick to. However, there are a handful of good ideas that can be applied by the writers.
Sentence length depends greatly on the complexity of the idea to be expressed. In our time, the average length of sentences is somewhere between 20-30 words. Now the simplicity and naturalness of the written and spoken language is deemphasized. So, the usage of short sentences became the custom of the day.
Short sentences can infuse a fresh spirit into the way you write and speak. Get to know why?
* The writer, who wants to persuade the audience, should remember that he will succeed best when the argument is couched in brief, even staccato sentences.
* In most readers’ mind, the short sentence carries an unmistakable sense of wisdom, because down through the ages it has acted as the setting for all the familiar gems of “truth”.
* Since there is no room in a very short sentence for anything but one elaborated thought, it follows that an idea to set forth in such a sentence will receive a large degree of emphasis.
* The short sentences can be used to express the feeling of suspense, excitement, or even horror. What would be a crime thriller be like without the terse, clipped sentences that portend a tense episode? The concentration upon a few bare facts adds a peculiar sense of horror or vice verse excitement to the narrative.
* The very absence of elaboration gives a writer a great opportunity to deliver the message to the reader in a simple and comprehensive way.
* The short sentences give unity to the expressed ideas, relieve monotony of too many clauses, and in general, make the expression more exact and accurate.
Undoubtedly, every writer should pay special attention to the length of the sentences he uses. Thus, the primary concern in writing and speaking must always be that our sentences fit the thoughts they are communicating.
This article was posted on December 10, 2005