Sentence Structure Matters

Next to your individual word choice, your sentence structure is the basic building block of your voice. Your sentences tell your story, either simply or poetically. They pull your reader in and carry them along.

It is possible to write a best-selling novel using basic sentence structure: simple, compound, and with a few more complex sentences thrown in. Stephanie Meyer did it in the Twilight series. I think it’s one of the reasons her books were so incredibly successful. The entire series is written at a 3rd or 4th-grade reading level in terms of sentence length, structure, and vocabulary. Readers don’t have to “work” to read them.  She wrote a compelling story using a basic style.

Ernest Hemingway, one of America’s greatest writers, said, “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.” He too had a simple pared-down style when it comes to sentence structure, and he chose each word with care to create powerful stories.

Stephen King lies at the opposite end of the sentence structure spectrum. He writes run-ons, comma splices, fragments, and long complicated sentences. He uses a more difficult vocabulary. All of these strategies develop his “voice” as a writer.

Another of my favorite new writers is Peter Heller who wrote The Dog Stars. His story is not written in verse, but it almost feels like it is with his focus on rhythm and word choices. He puts periods in the middle of sentences, forcing the reader to pause where he wants them to, not where a typical sentence might normally end and force a pause. His sentences convey a poetic writing style.

What types of sentences do you like to write? Long and winding ones that traverse across an idea before reaching a peak and then crashing down the other side?

Or do you write short, concise sentences? Ones that strive to tell the story without unnecessary embellishment?

Look at your latest story or piece. You might even count the number of words per sentence to analyze your style. Then, try to re-write that piece in a completely different style. Write longer sentences, more complex sentences, or shorter more simple sentences.

There is no “right” or “wrong” style, there is just your style, and one of the best parts of creative writing is not only discovering the style for a specific piece but then playing with that style.

Do you have a favorite style or is this an idea you’ve never considered? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. […] you go, while others are quick to the point and keep it light. (The Twilight series, for example, is written at a 3rd or 4th-grade reading level in terms of its sentence length, structure, and vocabulary.) Consider the books that you most like […]

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