Creative Writing Exercise Number 7 from the Archive
When I’m teaching I often use this exercise in the first week of term and I thought others might like to try it.
Varying the length of a sentence is very simple device that can add flavour and texture to your writing. It can also add to the atmosphere you want to create. Short words, short sentences and short paragraphs can give the sensation of speed. However, brevity can also convey powerful emotion.
Think of the difference between She died last Tuesday evening after a long illness and the succinct She’s dead.
Here’s your mission should you wish to accept it:
1) Describe a room, real or imaginary in just one sentence using as many words as you can – count the words afterwards, see how many you can fit in while still making sense and obeying the usual rules of English.
Tip: lists can be useful and before you start think about the words we use to link parts of a sentence such as: although, unless, so, but, while, because…
Here’s an example of the kind of thing I have in mind. (It’s 56 words long, but you can probably do much better – if in need of inspiration pick up any Dickens’ novel. He’ll show you the way.)
The gilt picture frames that decorated the walls of the guest bedroom were set on fire by the early morning sunlight shining through the stained glass window and brought the collection of oil paintings to new, vibrant life while transforming the swathes of muslin draping the four poster bed into an opal waterfall of translucent colour.
Now describe the same room but this time no sentence can be more than six words – it can have fewer words, but not more.
The light shone through stained glass. The oil paintings came alive. Dawn set the picture frames alight. Ancient gilt turned into gold. Muslin turned into water.
Do exactly the same – one long sentence followed by a paragraph of very short sentences – but this time write about:
someone recently bereaved
a man running away from an angry mob
A dull Monday afternoon in a care home
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This exercise first appeared on this blog in September 2012 and it has attracted many visitors over the years. I love it because it so simple and so effective.