You can use different sentence styles to build different effects in your writing. For instance, I wrote the paragraphs below after watching my older son, Nicholas, playing in front of the fireplace. I used different sentence styles in each paragraph to make you feel the tension I felt as I watched him maneuver his way around the blocks on the floor in front of him. How did I do?
Staccato Sentence Style
I watched my son Nicholas playing with his blocks and Legos this afternoon. He was building a city for his Bionicles. He had multi-colored blocks and Legos in place on the floor in front of the fireplace in the family room. Sitting in front of his make-believe city, he reached across the landscape to straighten a column and knocked over two blocks. He threw his hands into the air in despair. He picked up the errant blocks and said something under his breath. He leaned forward from the waist to a 50 degree angle. He focused on the blocks. He steadied his hand. He inched a blue square block downward into an open space. He inched a red rectangular block slowly on top of the blue block. He held his breath. He opened his thumb and forefinger. He released the red block. He lifted his hand, quarter inch by quarter inch, from the blocks. The blocks stayed. He sat upright. He let his breath go. He smiled.
If you felt, first, the reportorial style and, second, the tension I felt when watching my son, I succeeded in my purpose by using short, simple sentences. I used a staccato, hammering style - bang, bang, bang, bang - in the last several sentences. In the next paragraph below, I changed the sentence style, connecting several actions to pull you along and make you feel the continuity of my son's efforts and my involvement with his process. Did I succeed?
Continuous Sentence Style
I watched my son Nicholas playing with his blocks and Legos this afternoon, sitting in front of his make-believe city, creating a setting for his Bionicles, multi-colored blocks and Legos stacked in rows on the floor in front of the fireplace in the family room. Reaching across the landscape to straighten a column, he knocked over two blocks, and, throwing his hands into the air in despair, he picked up the errant blocks, while saying something under his breath. Leaning forward from the waist to a 50 degree angle, he focused on the blocks, steadying his hand, inching a blue square block downward into an open space, then inching a red rectangular block slowly on top of the blue block, finally opening his thumb and forefinger, releasing the red block, and lifting his hand, quarter inch by quarter inch, from the red block. The blocks stayed in place and Nickie sat upright, letting his breath go and smiling.
If you look (and count), you'll see that I wrote 19 sentences in the first paragraph and only four in the second. The two paragraphs feel different, don't they? Staccato sentences build one effect; continuous sentences another.
Now, try this; write a continuous sentence and stick a simple sentence immediately after it.
I walked to the bus station in the early morning light while several other people converged behind me near the newspaper stand that had just opened for the morning, its proprietor smiling and greeting us with a wave of his hand. The bus arrived.
Or, try it this way (a simple sentence, followed by a continuous one):
The bus arrived. Several people followed me in the early morning to the curb from the nearby newspaper stand, some looking at the ground to avoid stepping in the puddles of water from the evening's rain, some reaching into their coat pockets for a crumpled bus pass, some simply moving lock-step to the vehicle they used every morning to deliver them to the jobs they didn't enjoy and the settings they detested.
You will see that when you put simple and continuous sentences near each other, the contrast between them creates an interesting effect. In the next post we'll talk about triadic sentences, cumulative and parallel sentences. Isn't this fun?!