March 13, 2022: Writer's Craft- Sentence Fluency
“Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.” Perhaps Bernard Malamud’s quote is overstating it, but revision is certainly where the hard work of writing takes place. And it can be overwhelming. Everything from the flow of the story arc to the grammar and spelling checks are done during this stage of the process. While trying to do a revision for every aspect of the story at once can be overwhelming, focusing on one small area can be a very productive way to work. Focusing on one thing, like perhaps - the sentence fluency.
Sentence Fluency refers to the structure and length of the sentences used and how that impacts the overall rhythm or flow of our writing. Obviously, the story being told, the point of view, the time, location, characters, and even intended audience impact the structure of the sentences. But just becoming aware of our writing tendencies and how they are shaking out in our writing, can be very eye-opening and give us insight into areas and ways we might want to revise our writing.
Below are some writing activities that I do with my students, both my elementary writing students as well as my college students, to help build awareness of sentence fluency.
- Select a random paragraph in your manuscript and count the number of words in each sentence. Write them down in order. Is there variety? There is no perfect number of words each sentence should have, but there should be some variations and differences. Check another section somewhere else in the story. Compare your findings. This activity is simply designed to make you aware of your leanings. It is up to you at this point to decide if you are comfortable with the results or if you want to revise.
- Average sentences are somewhere between 8-15 words. Longer sentences can be 20 words or more. While most writing tends to be in the average range, strategically adding some shorter and longer sentences can add variety and spice to our writing.
- Select a writer whose style you admire and do this same exercise with one of their stories. This can give you some insight into the sentence fluency that they employ.
- Keep in mind that sentence length also impacts the tone and feeling of your writing. Shorter sentences work well in parts of the story that are intense and emotional. Longer sentences for parts that are more insightful or thoughtful.
- In addition to sentence length, examine the structure of your sentences. Do they tend to be subject/predicate? Do you frequently begin with transitional devices? As writers, we are very aware of word selection and work very hard not to be repetitive in our vocabulary, but sentence structure that is repetitive can also bog down our writing.
- When revising for sentence fluency, there are some tried and true strategies. Sentence flipping, using appositives, sentence combining, and sentence padding are just a few.
Truman Capote once said, “To me the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music the words make.” Focusing on our sentence fluency can certainly help our writing sing!