Thursday Writing Prompt No. 59

This dragonfly stares into the office kitchen, hoping for a handout.

The other day I went into the office kitchen to get some coffee, and a dragonfly was parked on the windowsill, staring in. Of course, without eyelids I guess insects really can’t do much besides appear to stare at us. Its body was a light yellow, but I’m not sure it shows up in the photo very well.

So, on to this week’s writing prompt. Today I’m going to talk about sentence length. How you structure your sentences when you write is as important to the overall mood of your story as the words that you use in the sentences. Short sentences, especially when you have several of them in a row, come across as staccato and tend to make the action move quickly. Longer sentences will slow down the reader and make the action calm down, too.

Your task is to write a short paragraph, but you’re going to write it twice. The content will be the same in both paragraphs; that is, the story is the same. But you can choose different words to tell it if you want. But the big difference is that in one paragraph you’re going to write using short sentences. In the second paragraph, use longer sentences and consider switching out some of the vocabulary. In other words, you’re telling the same story but with a completely different voice.

Once you’re done with the writing, read both of them aloud. How do they sound? This will really depend on your story, so there’s no right or wrong way to tell it. But listen to the cadence of the words and notice how it affects the movement of your story. Experiment by alternating short and long sentences until the piece has the right mixture of movement and calm. If you have a piece that you’re currently working on and it doesn’t seem right, try this tactic to rewrite some of it and see if it improves. Sometimes it’s not clear why a piece of writing doesn’t work, and you just have to experiment.

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