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Sentences

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Like, full ones. They can be tricky. Or worse, they can be boring. Apparently, boring sentences are very common and are one of the reasons writers fail.


I've been doing John Fox's sentence course in the past few days, and I've been learning a lot. It helps me to put a framework around what I had previously only thought of as "good writing" vs "not so great writing". It focuses my editing process in a way that no plot/structure course ever did. It is yet to be seen how effective this is going forward, but I'm pretty happy with the experience so far.


One of the lessons has been on sentence length variation. That's right. I'm going to geek out for a bit now. Because we talked about sentence length, I wanted to check out a few of my favourite books (for right now) and compare them to each other and my own writing. Here's a list of books with the opening few sentences/paragraphs, ranked from highest variation to lowest:


Neil Gaiman/Neverwhere: 13, 127, 27, 25, 12, 11, 8, 10, 3, 5, 40 (Variation: 127-3=124)

George Eliot/Middlemarch: 17, 80, 20, 45, 82, 30, 32, 53, 37 (Variation: 82-17=65)

Gal Podjarny/The Mommy Manual: 3, 6, 6, 11, 18, 31, 28, 33, 40, 9 (Variation: 40-3=37)

Sylvia Plath/The Bell Jar: 23, 4, 39, 24, 11, 5, 23, 34 (Variation: 39-4=35)

Candice Carty-Williams/Queenie: 4, 4, 19, 17, 26, 8 (Variation: 19-4=15)


I noticed a couple of things. First, I rank pretty well, all things considered. Obviously, there's more to a book than sentence length variation. Ranking above Sylvia Plath, for instance, doesn't take into account the fact that I could never, not in a million writing courses, come up with a phrase like "...goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway." (part of the 39-words sentence, page 1).


The second thing I noticed was that sentences got shorter as time passed. Middlemarch was published in 1874 (average sentence length: 44), whereas Queenie was published in 2019 (average sentence length: 13). Except for Neil Gaiman's crazy-long sentence (average sentence length: 25), you can pretty much order the books by average sentence length, and it'll be the correct chronological order (Sylvia Plath's average sentence length: 20). I'm not counting my book for the obvious reason that it hasn't been published yet.


The third thing I noticed: Neil Gaiman is insane, which is probably why I love his writing so much.

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