Learning to Listen to Your Sentences

24th November 2021
3 min read
1st February 2022

In this extract from A Writer's Journal Workbook, Lucy van Smit discusses writing at sentence level.

Lucy Van Smit

It is harder than you think to write a good sentence, isn’t it?

How do you know what a good sentence and good writing sound like anyway? The options are endless. ‘Hello!’ is a one-word sentence, which breaks the rule that a sentence must have an object and a verb. Rules can confuse. Here are five simple rules from Professor Joe Moran to help you create music in your writing.

1. Use short words – they sound more emotional.

2. Shorten your sentences – for clarity.

3. Vary your sentence length – for rhythm.

4. Use more verbs – verbs are action words so they move your story forward.

5. Try accumulative sentences. In a long sentence, put your main verb close to the top of your sentence, in a short clause, and then you can add more and more clauses without your reader getting lost.

A reader hears your words in their head when they read your writing. And if you want your writing to sound better, use more short words because vowels carry the emotion in a word. Take a moment to fully appreciate this truth. Reading is as much about hearing as seeing.

Vowels carry emotion in writing. This is the reason that poets use short words. And why opera singers will warm up by singing only vowel sounds – they want to maximise emotion in their voice.

Short Words = Emotion
How does this work? When you read, you emphasise one vowel sound in each word, no matter how long that word is. Multisyllable words might look impressive, but a reader still stresses only one vowel sound in each word – which means lengthy words emit less feeling. You get more bang for your buck with short words, because you create more vowel sounds on every page.

A Writer's Journal Workbook

Pre-order A Writer's Journal Workbook now

Lucy van Smit is an award-winning author, a screenwriter, and artist who regrets selling off most of her paintings to pay the rent. She got her BA Hons in Fine Art, blagged a job in TV, travelled worldwide for NBC News, flew on Air Force One with President Reagan, got surrounded by tanks at Manila airport during a coup, before she chilled and made documentaries for Canadian TV on writers like John Le Carre and Ian McEwan.

Lucy is dyslexic with a Distinction in MA Creative Writing. The Hurting won the inaugural Bath Children’s Novel Award and was published by Chicken House.

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