Sentences convey facts, excitement, action, and reveries. But how long should a good sentence be? You can find strict instructions never to write a sentence with more than 25 words. Is that a valid benchmark?
I just picked up a copy of the Feb 1 edition of The New Yorker, a splendid magazine loaded with superior writing in every category. Here’s a sentence by Ben McGrath, “reporter at large.”
My escort was an exceptionally genial sixty-seven-year-old man named Don Seely, an electrical engineer who said that he was between jobs and using the unwanted free time to volunteer his services to the Northern Kentucky Tea Party, the rally’s host organization, as a Webmaster.”
A fine sentence, wouldn’t you say? Between 40 and 50 words…
A few pages away:
“In October of 2008, he found a better place in the neighborhood.” (from a column by Lauren Collins.)
An equally fine sentence, with 12 words.
How long should a sentence be? As long as it needs to be but no longer.
If you’re writing chit-chat, many sentence will be one to five words long. If you’re discussing a serious topic, sentences may be fine at 50 or even 75 words.
The problem with long sentences is that they need to be crafted to make sense. If they aren’t, the length gets in the way of the meaning. It’s possible but harder to write meandering sentences with 25 or fewer words.
In short, the 25-word rule isn’t bad as long as you don’t follow it. Don’t count words and stick religiously to the 25-word limit. A long row of sentences all 25 words long can be as dull as a collection of short sentences can be, unless you’re writing for 8-year-olds.
So here’s the rule: your sentences should usually be about from 20 to 30 words long. If your style is breezy, 15 words would be good. Sentences with 50 or more words should be avoided if possible. Throw in a shorter sentence now and then that refocuses, summarizes, surprises. In dialog, keep all sentences on the short side.
Try not to begin with “there…” But that’s another topic! Have fun and let me know if you have any questions about sentences or writing.
Compliments of Griffith Publishing