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Writing 101, Day Eleven: Size Matters

Today, tell us about the home you lived in when you were twelve. For your twist, pay attention to — and vary — your sentence lengths.

Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?

But first, consider this passage:

The man rode hard through the woods. The black horse’s effort lay in lather. The sun beat down from high overhead. Dark birds circled, drifted, and then returned. The land baked, and dust hung suspended.

Is this not the most boring paragraph you’ve read in a long time — perhaps ever? We’ve got portent, a racing rider, and a forbidding landscape. Together, these should offer excitement and intrigue, but the words lay on the page, limp and dead. Why? Sentence length. Each sentence contains exactly seven words. The repetitive, seven-word cadence lulls you to sleep instead of piquing your interest.

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.

– Gary Provost, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing

Mixing up the lengths of your sentences creates variety for the reader and makes for much more interesting reading.

Today’s twist: pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium, and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.

Need a helping hand? Head to The Commons.

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  1. These challenges are really helpful. I’m excited to do this one but I’m still stuck with my Day 8. Haha. It’s a good thing though because I was planning to post about my hometown but this assignment is about it, too so I guess I’m gonna change it.

  2. Gary’s quote above, sounds to me as tapping into the melody of the heart and then writing becomes the poetry of smooth and effortless movement of flow… What’s your feeling of it ?

  3. I haven’t ever cared for sentence lengths ever in my writing. Hell, I like to write them anywhere between one word and 30+ at times, when I feel they need to be written that way.

    I had a tough time getting an idea for Day 10, after a lengthy Day 09 challenge. Managed to get it done yesterday.

    This one seems pretty easy on the fiction part. Since I’ve already written something similar before, I feel it would be an easy task.

    1. Perhaps that abruptness was by design for emphasis, to reinforce the topic’s meaning or portray emotion? That would be an appropriate choice. Function does determine form. Some writers, though, do not have an ear that hears the cadence of their writing.
      Most likely the author of the piece didn’t bother to read it out loud to hear how it actually sounded. Or just didn’t care: “There. Done” was all that mattered?

  4. Can’t wait to get started. As for “K is for____________” (the next letter in my blogging challenge), I’m stumped. Any ideas for the word? Be easy if I was from Kentucky or Knoxville. Do I use kitchen and start there? Just used my mom’s cooking in post 10. Help you people out there.

  5. Oh, boy, this is gonna be fun. I adored the house I lived in when I was 12. I often have dreams about it. The challenge of different length sentences shouldn’t be a problem. I THINK that’s how I usually write anyway. Now, to find quiet time to actually do it. That’s the challenge.

  6. http://dx0330.wordpress.com/?p=336
    Here’s mine, :)
    Please leave a comment telling me how I did, and if I need to improve on anything in particular. :)
    I’d really appreciate the feedback, be it constructive or destructive … And please let me know if I’ve managed to describe the ‘house’ appropriately, or if I should have stuck to the more traditional, school-type descriptive essay. :)

  7. Wow. You actually count the words in a sentence to determine whether a passage is well written or not? I didn’t find the paragraph — or the writing — boring at all. Don’t confuse YOUR personal taste and ability to count with what is or is not “the most boring paragraph ever.”

    1. Don’t confuse YOUR personal taste and ability to count with what is or is not “the most boring paragraph ever.”

      Harsh.

      I did count the words within those sentences when I wrote them to make sure that there were seven words in each. I wrote that paragraph to illustrate a point. I’m glad that you liked my writing.

      1. I don’t think my comment was any more harsh than yours (at your own work!). I teach writing and one of the biggest difficulties I have to overcome with my students is that some teacher somewhere taught them to count the words in their sentences and to measure the quality of their writing by the number of words. I’ve even used textbooks that say that a good sentence is between (that’s already hilarious because the range is, well, nonexistent) “…between 16 and 18 words.” I think your paragraph does a good job conveying foreboding. The only thing I’d change is the bit about the sun beating down from high overhead. Down is pretty much the only direction it’s got.

    2. I think the point was that writing has a rhythm, a cadence you can feel. Haiku, for example, requires expression of a thought not only by number of words, but number of syllables! Our own Ernest Hemingway was a master of the short sentence. If your imagination hears the rhythm of uniform, seven-word sentences, so be it. Our coach is merely suggesting we experiment with rhythm in writing.

      1. I wish I’d never commented. It’s really OK not to comment on my comment. I’d gladly UN-comment if I could. It was a mistake to say anything and I don’t know what prompted me to do it.

  8. On Saturday mornings I woke to the smell of coffee and pancakes before my eyes faced the light. On weekdays, my mom was singing musical tunes, her favorite being “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” and I was clenching the covers tight over my head cursing. Our floorboards creaked and you could hear the kettle brewing through my bedroom wall. It was charming, and I liked it; despite the million dollar homes we lived next to in the valley of the hills: Marin County. At twelve, I was in an awkward stage of growth: a tomboy discovering her female anatomy and affection for opposite sex. I rode my bike to school; my rainbow toe socks and Converse could be seen a mile away. Clearly, I never learned about fashion. After school, I rode to our local burger shop with three other girls who all lived on a street near mine. We would walk our bikes home, giggling about funny words and the boys that showed off in school that day. Our afternoon sessions were usually wrapped up with a closing ceremony of couch cushions and blaring Anna’s older sister’s music collection: 90’s rap. Then as the sun set, I would walk past oak trees and fresh cut lawns back to my musical mother to hear about everyone’s day over rice and veggies. At night I’d lay on by bedroom floor, with my headphones on, doing my homework with drawings in between. As soon as I felt my father’s footsteps I would get into bed: the street lamp as my night light. Sometimes I would listen for crickets. Other times I would listen to my parent’s conversations. And sometimes I would whisper my secrets aloud, nightly confessions always made for a better night’s sleep.

  9. My apologies to all for my postings if they have been annoying when I put them out at various times of the day. I was hoping they would help people to see my example. I will refrain. I don’t want to be bad. I guess my injuries make my judgement bad too.
    Much Apologies
    Ronovan

  10. That would be a great idea for my other blog, but for travelling…? I’m hesitating: which to choose – a business hotel in Japan, a traditional hotel in Japan or a boarding house in Indonesia. The latter is probably the least-tourist like, unless somebody wants to stay long in one place and make it their base for travelling.

    What do you think?

  11. this is my first time here in this challenge :)
    I don’t call it a house. I don’t call it a apartment. It was rooms lined up apart. Is was lovely, it was home

  12. After the sprawling apartment in Chicago, the suburban Cape Cod seemed tiny–but wait, there was a whole second storey! (Inside stairs: imagine.) I could ascend to my magical room, all rosebud wallpaper and crisp, white, organdy curtains. Beneath slanting eaves, my bed stood in front of the window, open to the tree-tops and summer’s fragrant breeze. Looking down, I could view another wonder: our very own yard. Green grass and lilacs and those trees, the same staunch elms that fanned me at night shaded my private reading place by day.

  13. On day 9, we were asked to write the scene from 3 different points of view. This is the assignment I was going to skip, because I didn’t want to write it like most everyone else and do 3 separate paragraphs. I wanted to incorporate all 3 POV into one story. I decided to just skip it, because it proved to be too challenging, and then my boyfriend said “So what’s the point in taking the course then?” Challenge accepted. I’m a day (or 3 behind) and a dollar short, but here is my attempt at combining 3 POV into one. Please know that I have never used dialogue nor written a story like this before. I was WAY out of my comfort zone, and more than likely made many mistakes. However, I think the biggest mistake would have been not trying at all. Feedback would be appreciated (especially by those of you who write stories like this). Assignment for day 11 to follow shortly. Thanks fellow bloggers!!

    ~Kate

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