Friday, April 2, 2010

Start to Finish (Part 7 of 10)

Shorten those sentences.

Grumble if you like, but terse-and-clear is the mark of good writing. Whether or not you think a sentence is too short, in order to write well, it probably isn't too short at all.

Read that 15-word sentence again. You can cut words. Whether implies or not. At all is redundant and you can cut in order. I'd suggest you make the sentence read this way: If you think a sentence is too short, it probably isn't.

When I first started to write, the late Charlie Shedd taught, "Never make a sentence longer than 15 words." His words were a bit arbitrary, but in those days 50 words wasn't too long a sentence. Yet vigilantly limited to no more than15 makes choppy writing.

Here's how I say it: "Let your sentences average no more than 20 words." Good writing doesn't demand a word limit on a sentence. Take as long as you need to express a thought. Afterward, go back and ask if you can eliminate words or perhaps make a long sentence into two.

If you write succinctly and clearly, you're one rung higher on the good-writer ladder. You can figure out the antithesis of that statement. Antithesis is a good word, but it may be beyond the vocabulary of some readers. Why not say the opposite? That's another tip.

Good writers cut ruthlessly.


  1. Oh dear. I know wordiness weighs down my writing too often. I've heard the "no more than 15 word" rule, but I like your 20 word average better.

    Other eyes help find those habitual boo-boos better than our own do. Or should I say, have others look at your work to find repeated mistakes?

    I love this blog! There. Four words that shout my heart.

  2. Thanks for the words of advice. I feel like I have so much to learn.

    Have a blessed Easter!

  3. As I am getting ready to edit my rough draft, I plan to put this in action. I do tend to be a bit verbose. Thanks!

  4. Love it!

    Love it. I don't need the exclamation point.

  5. Love it,too. This is a great service you are performing for us wannabes. Maybe we'll make it after all.

  6. Thanks so much for blogging! I needed a writing mentor and was blessed to find you. Each tip is a gem.

  7. I keep hearing this over and over from current writers, editors, etc., but when I read novels, even honored classics, the sentences are not short. Is this a change of thought over time in what is considered "best writing'? The first sentence of the Declaration of Independence has 71 words. I could continue with more examples, but you get my point. I understand not being redundant, but is chopping sentences down to less always better? Is it not more depending on the style or voice of the writer, than a formula for all writers. I write this respectfully to you as a professional writer, from a young writer still learning.


What are your thoughts?