Knowing how to write good sentences and paragraphs will make writing easy, fun, and painless! Here are five tips for making your sentences flow, to ensure your reader doesn’t stop reading your article, book, or essay.
For the best tips on how to write better, read Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark – one of my favorite writing books. In this article, you’ll find basic skills for good writing; they’ll reduce choppiness and increase your chances of hooking your reader ‘til the very end. You’ll never learn everything you need to know about writing from articles on the internet, but you can pick up a few good tips!
“Nothing is more satisfying than to write a good sentence,” says author Barbara Tuchman. “It is no fun to write lumpishly, dully, in prose the reader must plod through like wet sand. But it is a pleasure to achieve, if one can, a clear running prose that is simple yet full of surprises. This does not just happen. It requires skill, hard work, a good ear, and continued practice.”
Tuchman’s sentences flow for a variety of simple reasons, which we’ll explore below.
How to Write Good Sentences and Paragraphs
1. Balance “edgy and quirky” writing with “simple and lean” writing
Editors, publishers, literary agents, and readers love edgy and quirky writing – but not at the expense of writing flow. As a writer, you need to balance your unique voice and style of writing with clean, simple, effective prose. The easier your writing is to read, the more flow it has…and the longer your reader will stay with you.
2. Avoid alligators and transoms in your writing
A classic fiction writing mistake is “throwing alligators down the transom”, which means saving your hero at the last minute with a totally unbelievable escape. That can be seen as an ineffective transition, which disrupts flow. Effective transitions are part of good writing skills – and this doesn’t just mean using words such as “however” or “additionally”! Yes, there are certain words that glue your essay or article together, but transitions aren’t just words. Effective transitions are thoughts and ideas that are strategically connected. Good writing skills require more than alligators and transoms, fellow scribes — they require knowing how to write good sentences and paragraphs that are connected.
3. Identify the underlying writing problems
To make your sentences flow, don’t just identify the choppy bits or correct grammatical errors. Take it a step further, and figure out why your sentences are choppy or you keep dropping alligators down the transom. Once you identify your bad writing habits, your writing skills will improve at an organic level. Writing in flow is about knowing your own weaknesses as a writer.
4. Write short sentences, write long sentences
Reread Tuchman’s writing tip above. Her first three sentences are long and stylish…and her last two sentences are short and staccato. Varying sentence length is not only a classic tip for making sentences and paragraphs flow, it’s a good writing skill. Readers get bored when all sentences are the same length! Shake it up a little, fellow scribes, and find a natural balance for irregular sentence lengths.
5. Learn to edit and revise for content, and separately for structure
Writing good sentences and paragraphs involves editing and revising with different hats on: content (information), and mechanics (sentence flow, literary techniques, grammar, etc). These are very different aspects of good writing, and few writers can edit for both at the same time! For more tips on writing good sentences and paragraphs, read How to Edit, Revise, Rewrite Your Writing.
For more tips on how to write good sentences and paragraphs, read 5 Secrets of Good Writing – Examples of Sensory Details.
What’s your favorite tip for writing good sentences? I welcome your thoughts below…