Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Short and Sweet Sentences, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

Happy Valentine's Day! In honor of this sweet holiday, I thought I'd talk about one of my favorite writing topics -- the power of short sentences. I LOVE short sentences and use them in my writing often. Sentences that have just a few words can pack a powerful, emotional punch. I'm a fan of one-word sentences too, especially when they follow a longer sentence. That creates a nice rhythm and variation in the text. Here are some heart-stopping examples.

In the middle of because of mr. terupt by Rob Buyea, there are several short, powerful sentences. It's at the point when Mr. Terupt has been hit with the snowball and the kids are reacting and sharing their feelings. The sentences are simple, heartfelt, and real, such as Peter saying, "I didn't know Mr. T was going to be right there. I didn't want to hurt anyone." And Anna: "Please let my teacher be okay." I love the way they're structured in the book too, with each narrator's sentence on one page. That format makes the sentences even more dramatic.

Flora & Ulysses is another one of my favorites because of Kate DiCamillo's ability to convey emotion with humor, surprise, and short sentence "zingers" that can make you laugh, cry, or both.

Here's an example:

"Have you lost your mind?" said Mrs. Tickham.
Flora ignored her.
She breathed into the squirrel's mouth. She pushed down on his small chest.
She started to count."

I adore the lyrical rhythm of these few sentences, and the alternating longer/shorter word length.

DiCamillo also periodically uses one word sentences, one right after the other, such as: "Capacious. Random. Heart. Universe. Flora felt dizzy."


I have to mention The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate since it is perhaps my favorite middle grade book. Just the opening sentences alone -- "I am Ivan. I am a gorilla. It's not as easy as it looks." -- grab onto my heart and don't let go for the entire story.

 This amazing book is filled with so many short, emotional sentences that make you stop reading, sit back, and just say, wow. I'm talking about:

"I don't know why. I never know the why of humans."

"I pause, and then I say it. 'It's a cage.'"

"I can't let Ruby be another One and Only."




I used a lot of short sentences in my middle grade novel, The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days.

The opening lines are:

"It starts with Mrs. Chung.
And flowers.
Marigolds."

Later in the book, in a particularly poignant part, I describe the action in brief, almost choppy sentences, which matches the mood of that scene, as the family is trying to come back together after a period of distance and misunderstanding. Here's an excerpt:

"Scrambled eggs. Burnt pancakes. Slightly expired orange juice, which Dad says is still drinkable. Strawberries on the rims. The four of us at the kitchen table. Small talk. A joke. Dad cutting pancakes like he used to cut spaghetti. Not perfect. A little rusty. But still a family."

Wishing you lots of short and sweet writing, and of course, tons of chocolate today!

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of several middle grade novels. Her newest will publish this coming fall from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin. Find out more at micheleweberhurwitz.com








3 comments:

  1. I'm with you -- a fan of short sentences, used well. I like the rhythm of your book's passage quite a bit -- and think about rhythm a LOT when I'm writing. I always wonder if the readers will "hear" it in their heads the way I do when I put it down on paper, but if the rhythm is off as I'm writing it, it feels to me like playing an out of tune piano.

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  2. The passages you shared from THE SUMMER I SAVED THE WORLD are so powerful, Michele. Can't wait to read the whole book now!

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  3. I so loved THE SUMMER I SAVED THE WORLD!

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