Tag Archives: words

Authors Answer 125 – Is Short Better?

You know the advice where authors are told they should be as brief as possible? Cut out any unnecessary words. Keep it simple. Everything short. Easy. Yes? No? How did this paragraph sound? We talk about this very topic.

Question 125 – Use short words, sentences, and paragraphs. Do you agree or disagree, and why?

Elizabeth Rhodes

Exclusively? No. You need variation in your sentence length, or your writing will sound monotonous.

Paul B. Spence

Only if you are writing for children. I assume my audience to be thinking adults with at least average IQ, probably even educated. If they can’t handle a word like existential or thermodynamic, they aren’t going to understand my stories anyway.

H. Anthe Davis

If this was a law, I would be in jail for life.  I have to consciously control the amount of dashes in my work — lest I end up with six sentences broken up like this one inside a single paragraph.  Semicolons are also my BFFs.  When I edit, I do try to break down some of my impossibly long sentences, especially since I often write them in the rough drafts because I’m still trying to figure out a concept; it’s sometimes possible to replace a whole clause with just a couple words, once I actually get what I’m trying to say.  But as I’ve had few complaints over my endless chains of words, and as I’ve read others’ novels which are just as wordy and tangled as mine, I don’t think the commandment to keep things short should be considered as anything more than a suggestion.  Yes, reread your stuff — out loud if possible — and chop it up where it needs it, but don’t chop it up Just Because.

Cyrus Keith

Agree, depending on the pace you want to keep. You may have a fight sequence. Short words and phrases move the pace quickly, because the action is brisk. Each punch, each kick, each shot, stands on its own. But if you’re waking to a pastoral scene next to a peaceful, meandering river, you want to slow down and relax a bit. Use the flowers, their scent, the taste of the water, the warmth of the summer sun, to lull the readers just a little. Just before you pour gasoline on your characters and set them on fire.

D. T. Nova

You shouldn’t use longer words just to show off your vocabulary, but to avoid them when they do seem more natural to you will come across as dumbing things down.

Sentence length should vary. Having too many long and complex sentences in a row can be hard to follow, but having too many short ones in a row can get monotonous.

Extremely long paragraphs should be used very sparingly, and never without reason.

Eric Wood

If you write children’s books, then yes. Keep it short, simple and easy to understand. If you write YA or for adults then feel free to expand upon the sentences. When short sentences and paragraphs are used too frequently the writing seems choppy and incomplete. To provide the reader with ample detail and imagery longer, more complicated sentence structure will be required. However, when writing a children’s book you need to take care to watch length and vocabulary.

Beth Aman

There’s a place for everything.  You’re a writer; words and sentences are your tools.  They are the building blocks that you use to create worlds and breathe life into characters – you should know how to use them.  Long, rolling sentences take longer to read.  They serve a purpose when used properly; I use them to explain things that take a long time to happen, or need a lot of words for.  They come across as luxurious, like thick carpet.  Short sentences are the opposite: they convey urgency.  They show that things are happening quickly.  I try to use short sentences (and words a paragraphs) for fight scenes and tense moments.  I think the trick to sentence length is this: read a lot, pay attention when you read, and pay attention to your own writing.  Read your writing aloud, get it critiqued, write a lot of things, and eventually it will become second nature.

C E Aylett

No, no and no. Please don’t. Variety is the writers friend. Learn how to use different word and sentence lengths to create effect. Some shorter sentences have a bigger impact if preceded by a long one. And some long sentences can convey wrought emotions better than any fluttering hearts and shallow breaths (read Pride & Prejudice for examples). There has also been a trend to substitute the use of commas for full-stops (periods). This not only creates a lot of fragments in the grammar, it also ruins the fluidity of the prose. Sometimes it works, depending on the voice, and intended style. But generally speaking, if you are not writing a story from a robot’s POV, avoid the stilted narrative and structure your sentences correctly. Except for when they demand you don’t for the purpose of effect. Using too many short sentences can also suggest the author is unable to handle complex sentences and concepts.

In my own writing, I tend to err on the side of short to medium paragraphs (though one paragraph could be one whole single sentence :D). I find white space is a writer’s best friend.

However, no matter what I say, it’s more important the writer finds their own style, what they feel comfortable writing. There’s no point inserting long words you don’t feel confident using, as that will be transparent. If using simpler text works for you then do that. I just finished a brilliant book called Chicago Loop which is an intricate exploration into the mind of a man with sexual psychosis. The vocabulary is not overly demanding but it didn’t stop the author from creating complex layers of character, so it read a lot more densely that it would have in the hands of a less experienced or talented writer.

What I would say all writers should avoid is the use of too many function words. Even with a good story too much <<to have/to be/doing/went/got/looked (my worse faux pas in first drafts)/etc.>> combinations and weak verbs and nouns will make an interesting concept bland.

Jean Davis

Disagree. That sounds like a choppy staccato mess. Variation in word, sentence, and paragraph length help a story flow more naturally and appear visually pleasing on a page.

Gregory S. Close

No.  Short words are not better words.  Short sentences are not better sentences.  Neither are short paragraphs.


Tracey Lynn Tobin

Disagree. It all depends on a number of factors. I definitely agree that sometimes a thought can – and should – be written in the simplest, shortest way possible, but sometimes a bit of a ramble is necessary. Complex thoughts require complex words/sentences/paragraphs, and simple ones should be quick and to the point. All in all, any story should use a wide variety of all possibilities. There should be short sentences/paragraphs, and long ones, and the complexity of the word should depend on the point that particular word is trying to get across. Trying to keep everything as short as possible – or alternatively, trying to go the long route – makes a story boring. There needs to be variety, always.

Jay Dee Archer

I disagree, mostly. The length of sentences can affect the pacing of the scene. The length of paragraphs can affect how you read. The length of words can affect how you view the age level. But that’s not all. Ideally, there should be varied length in paragraphs and sentences, as well as words in some cases. If you’re writing an action scene, short sentences can be beneficial. It can make the scene feel more exciting. Shorter words can make you feel like you’re reading a children’s book. Shorter paragraphs can look like you can’t expand on anything. On the other hand, a wall of text can be difficult to read.

Shorter words can dumb it down. Don’t do this. Shorter sentences can be useful for action scenes. Use when appropriate. Shorter paragraphs are more common in dialogue, not narration. It really depends on the conversation. Vary the structure to make it sound more natural. That is important.

How about you?

What do you think? Do you prefer shorter or longer words, sentences, and paragraphs? When is it appropriate for them to be shorter? Let us know in the comments.

How Do You Pronounce That?

Have you ever read a book, encountered a word you’ve seen many times and know the definition of, yet you’ve never heard it spoken aloud? This was asked at the Grammarly website here.

Has this ever happened to you? I have a good example of this.

I’d read the word paradigm many times. Basically, it means a model or a pattern. You can read the definition here. But I’d never heard someone read this word out. I’d heard the word spoken before, but I never connected the two. When I saw the word, I always thought, “That’s such a stupid sounding word… para-diggum.”

There are plenty of other words. Hyperbole? Is that a football game? The Hyper Bowl? Or the character Hermione from Harry Potter. Hermy-own? I know how these are actually pronounced, so no problem with those for me. But there are many who don’t know how to say them.

What are some words you knew in printed form, but had/have no idea how to pronounce? Share them in the comments below.

A Great Resource for Writers

I discovered a great blog today that I have to share with you. If you’re struggling with making your writing stand out with a variety of words and phrases, this is the place for you. Bryn Donovan has a very informative blog, as well as a book that just came out.

Going through her blog briefly, you’ll notice some of her more popular posts are Master Lists. Actually, her book is Master Lists for Writers. It looks very interesting, and after moving to Canada, I’m considering buying it. Looks like a good resource for livening up my writing.

But back to the Master Lists.  There are three that I’ve seen on the blog:

These are some long lists that are very useful. And these are just the first three sections of the book. There’s a lot more in the book, from what I’ve seen of the table of contents.

So, check out her blog. I’m following it now, and plan to check out more.

Cooking Taught Me a New Word

Here’s my dinner.


It’s beef with bean sprouts, onions, a spicy sauce, and garlic stems. Or so I called them. Turns out that the correct term for garlic stems is garlic scapes. I had no idea. Even my iPhone thinks it isn’t a word. It’s underlined.

So, you never know when you’ll learn a new word. What have you learned recently? Any interesting words?

Mad Libs

There’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing, and that’s mad libs. Here are a few:

The blue Dragon is the sleepiest Dragon of all. It has crusty kidneys, and a nose shaped like a computer. It loves to eat pelicans, although it will feast on nearly anything. It is sloppy and fresh. You must be endless around it, or you may end up as it`s meal!

That was from here.

Here’s another one, taken from here.

Darth Jay Dee looked at his master while his tall breathing filled the room. He was told to go to swim everything on the planet of wiigii. He got in his sofa and jumped to hyperspace. Soon before he reached the planet, he dropped out of hyperspace and was attacked by Rebel Ford Pintos. He sliced them off and continued to the planet`s surface. He landed and confronted more opposition, slicing it down with his paperclip. He used the Facebook to choke another Rebel, then friended him aside. He finished off all life on the planet with a/an seared laugh.

You see, not all of these are great, but there are some good ones to be found. So, here’s the Flintstones theme.

Flintlasers, meet the Flintlasers,
They`re a modern sleepy family.
From the town of Des Moines,
They`re a phone booth right out of history.

Let`s slip, with the family down the saxophone,
Through the courtesy of Jay Dee`s 42 feet.
When you`re with the Flintlasers,
Have a smoink nghyol doo coffin — A nghyol doo coffin,
You`ll have a twisted old coffin!

You can find many on that website. Post your best ones in the comments. Let’s have a little fun.