Expository writing m.3.4 effects of sentence length & complexity
Sentence length and complexity help shape every author’s style. While some writers craft long, circuitous sentences, others employ short ones. Both styles can pack a punch. David Brooks, Vershawn Ashanti Young, and Audre Lorde make different stylistic choices about the effects of sentence length and repetition.
In “Honor Code,” for example, Brooks uses many short sentences. Look back at his article, and write out five short sentences that typify his style.
What are the effects on readers of using this kind of sentence structure?
In contrast, Vershawn Ashanti Young sometimes use long, complex sentences, while Audre Lorde sometimes uses a deliberate variety of long and short sentences.
Choose one of the two passages below to explore in more detail, analyzing the author’s stylistic choices as indicated in the directions that follow.
Vershawn Ashanti Young, “Prelude: The Barbershop”
In contrast to Brooks’s use of short phrases, Vershawn Ashanti Young sometimes uses a thoughtful combination of short and long sentences that include repetition of certain words and phrases.
The following excerpt from the second to last paragraph of his “Prelude” is a good illustration of varied sentence length as well as strategic repetition of words and phrases.
It might seem like a good thing that I was kicked out.
It might seem as if this exile expedited the leave I was seeking. But the problem that this bit of personal history presents, the problem that my monograph theorizes, the problem that my trip to the barbershop illustrates is this: because I ain’t no homeboy—though I long to be and would do anything short of killing to gain that identity—I’m not ghetto enough for the ghetto. Because I’m not a white boy, I’m not white enough for white folks. And because I wasn’t born in the middle class, I’m not completely accepted by the mainstream. And sometimes, if you can believe it, I’m not ghetto enough for the mainstream or middle class enough for the ghetto or black enough for white folks!
The psychoemotional pain that this liminal existence creates, the pain of negotiating multiple cultural and racial worlds, is far too great for many. I’ve been doing it for a long time and have been able to cope only by transforming my personal problem into an intellectual one. In some ways I’m chipping away at the burden. But far too many are not able to do this. And why should they have to?
Count the number of words in each sentence in this paragraph, and compare sentence lengths. What are the effects of altering sentence length to this degree?
Now, imitate Young’s prose style by writing a 10-sentence paragraph in the spirit of his voice, maintaining his sentence length and structure, but writing about yourself and your own experiences with language, gender, culture, race, masculinity, femininity, or identity.
Audre Lorde, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”
In contrast to Brooks’s use of short phrases, Audre Lorde sometimes uses a combination of short and long sentences that include repetition of certain words and phrases.
The following excerpt, the sixth paragraph from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” is a good illustration of varied sentence length as well as strategic repetition.
What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am a woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself—a Black woman warrior poet doing my work—come to ask you, are you doing yours?
Next, count the number of words in each sentence in this paragraph and compare sentence lengths. What are the effects of altering sentence length to this degree?
Finally, imitate Lorde’s prose style by writing a five-sentence paragraph in the spirit of her voice, maintaining her sentence length and structure, but writing about yourself and your own experiences with language, gender, culture, race, masculinity, femininity, identity, or silence.