How To Write Shorter Sentences


Every writer, at one time or another, has struggled over crafting sentences and finding the ‘sweet spot’ length that sounds amazing, and also says what you want it to say.

People often claim that a story’s language is poetic. But what does that mean?

Sometimes it means that the writer uses lush, lyric descriptions. But not always.  Great sentences—and great lines of poetry—often work the same way.  They strive for leaps in logic, for the unexpected juxtaposition of images.  Readers are expected to keep up, to make the connections without the aid of explanation.  Therefore, a stylish sentence often dashes forward.

The best writers can do this in two words, as Vladimir Nabokov did in his famous parenthetical aside “(picnic, lightning).”  Other writers, like Kelly Luce, leap from one short, direct sentence to the next.

For example, here is the opening paragraph from her story “Rooey” in The Literary Review. Notice how far and fast the story moves using phrases of less than ten words each:

Since Rooey died, I’m no longer myself. Foods I’ve hated my entire life, I crave. Different things are funny. I’ve stopped wearing a bra. I bet they’re thinking about firing me here at work, but they must feel bad, my brother so recently dead and all. Plus, I’m cheap labor, fresh out of college. And let’s face it, the Sweetwater Weekly doesn’t have the most demanding readership or publishing standards. (From “Rooey” by Kelly Luce)

EXERCISE:  Rewrite the following sentences to a shorter version that says the same thing.  Remember, there is no single right answer to these rewrites, simply come up with a clearly improved version.

  • At this point in time we can’t ascertain the reason as to why the screen door was left open.
  • My sister, who is employed as a nutritionist at the University of Michigan, recommends the daily intake of megadoses of Vitamin C.
  • Basically, in light of the fact that Congressman Fuenches was totally exhausted by his last campaign, there was an expectation on the part of the voters that he would not reduplicate his effort to achieve office in government again.
  • It is to be hoped that we discover a means to create an absolutely proper and fitting tribute to Professor Espinoza.
  • Bothered by allergies, a condition that made them sneeze, some of the preschool children had sinus troubles that caused them to miss several days in nursery school this spring.

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