NaNoWriMo Advice: Louise Dean Says Short Sentences Can Be A Powerful Tool

oldromantic becomingstrangersAs we reach the final few days of National Novel Writing Month 2017, Louise Dean, author and founder of online writing course Kritikme.com joins me to share her insights into why using short sentences is a powerful tool when writing a novel. Thank you for joining me today Louise. Over to you. 

Short Sentences. (BANG!)

Creating Impact.

We can’t always be poetic. We cannot always find a new way of saying things. But if we offer visual images in short sentences, we can create an effect on our readers that is an assault on their senses. Think Bob Dylan.

One short sentence hard on the heels of the last is a highly engaging way to write. It forces the reader into a world that is unfolding with immediacy, speed, possibly danger. Wham. Slam. Bang. Things are happening fast as in an emergency. The story is unfolding. The reader is alert.

Short & Sweet

The most economical short story writer of all time is probably Raymond Carver. With his precise, punchy prose, he conveys in a few words what many novelists take several pages to elucidate. In stories such as ‘Fat’ and ‘Are You a Doctor?’ he writes with understatement about suburban disenchantment in mid-century America.

I’d like to share with you the two things that made his short stories works of art.

  1. At the end of every short story – as in the first chapter of a novel – EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED.
  2. Carver’s genius was to incorporate here what happens in the last chapter of a novel which is the narrator is facing life after him or her – THE ANNIHILATION OF SELF.

These themes can be served, should be served, in staccato sentences for great power.

Make it shorter.

‘Remember that two great masters of language, William Shakespeare and James Joyce, wrote sentences which were almost childlike when their subjects were most profound. ‘To be or not to be?’ asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The longest word is three letters long.’ Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut employs a choral technique from the songbook of modern music too, with repetition of an almost biblical phrase ‘So it goes’ throughout Slaughterhouse-5.

When Kurt Vonnegut uses that sentence again and again throughout Slaughterhouse-5, setting it against the backdrop of one of the worst tragedies of WWII — the firebombing of Dresden — the fatalistic attitude of that short sentence provides a hard contrast to the horrific details of Dresden.

 

Let me take you away from all of this.

Work even in your first draft on making your sentences shorter and you will work harder and tighter and produce greater impact. You don’t need to reach for that elusive metaphor….’The sky was like…’. Everyone knows what the sky can be like. So ‘The sky was orange’ will do. Follow the sentence – as if using your headlights – with how things sound, or smell. ‘The earth smelt of dung.’ Layer up your images. As one of my writers put it, create a ‘pile up.’

You don’t need to be clever, you need to proceed in an orderly fashion with a touch of impatience. It’s all been said before but nobody has lived the moment until you set it down on the page.

 

authorkritikmeAbout Louise: 

Louise Dean is an award-winning author published by Penguin and Simon & Schuster and nominated for The Dublin International Literary Award, The Guardian First Book Prize, and the Man Booker Prize. She is the founder of Kritikme.com, an online creative writing course which teaches people how to write a novel in ninety days. You can get a 10% discount on this course by using the code MYNOVEL10 at the check-out.

 

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Laura
I’m Laura. I started Novel Kicks in 2009. I wanted a place to post my writing as well as give other writers like me the opportunity to do the same. There is also a monthly book club, a writing room which features writing prompts, book reviews, competitions, author interviews and guest posts.

I grew up by the sea (my favourite place in the world) and I currently live in Hampshire. I am married to Chris, have a cat named Buddy and I would love to be a writer. I’m trying to write the novel I’ve talked so much about writing if only I could stop pressing delete. I’ve loved writing since creative writing classes in primary school. I have always wanted to see my teacher Miss Sayers again and thank her for the encouragement. When not trying to write the novel or writing snippets of stories on anything I can get my hands on, I love reading, dancing like a loon and singing to myself very badly. My current obsession is Once Upon a Time and I would be happy to live with magic in the enchanted forest surrounded by all those wonderful stories provided that world also included Harry Potter. I love reading chick lit. contemporary fiction and novels with mystery.

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