Style, Voice, and Sentence Variety

I hate it when people mention my “style” or “voice” because one commenter will inevitably disagree with the last. Style and Voice drive me crazy.

How does one create a personal style? How does one cultivate a unique voice?

As far as I can tell, the answer is “through time and practice.” Eventually, you will settle into your own style and voice. The more you write, the more your voice will develop and shine through.

That being said, we can probably all agree on some basic guidelines regarding style. The one I want to mention today is: You should vary the types and lengths of sentences in your prose.  Don’t only write simple sentences. Don’t only write compound sentences, complex, or compound-complex sentences. If you don’t remember those terms, have no fear! It just means that you should write sentences of different lengths and that use different patterns of phrases and clause combinations (okay, you can review some grammar if you want to).

This lesson was driven home for me years ago when I read Gary Provost’s Make Your Words Work (a creative writing book with plenty of solid advice). I won’t bother paraphrasing because Provost nailed it.

“This sentence has five words. This is five words, too. Five words sentences are fine. But several altogether become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing gets boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And when I’m certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals, and sounds that say listen to this, it is important.” – Gary Provost, Making Your Words Work.

There will be times when you want to repeat a sentence type (using parallelism perhaps), but generally, you want to change it up so that the reader doesn’t fall into a rhythm or spot a pattern. Additionally, you want to show that you have complete control over your prose—and that means being mindful of your sentence variety (or lack thereof).

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