NOLA Notes: ‘Don’t just write words. Write music.’ A brief, important point about varying sentence length
Because I couldn’t get a projector to work at the National College Media Convention in New Orleans, I read aloud a passage in a “Free Your Writing Voice” session that I’ve sometimes just flashed on a screen. I had not prepared for a dramatic reading, so I was surprised at how powerful it sounded coming out of my mouth.
The audience seemed to like it, though it’s a long passage. So I encourage you to read it aloud.
It’s from “100 Ways to Improve Your Writing,” by the late Gary Provost:
“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.
“So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.”
I especially loved reading that long sentence. And the two-word emphatic ending. For lots more on such nuances in writing, by the way, check out Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark. Now that I think of it, he’s found of the music analogy and will play keyboards at his writing seminars. I can’t play a note, so no more advice on that line from me!