Writing with style

It is always a worthwhile exercise to study the work produced by other writers not just to be entertained but rather to examine how they use words. In fact, reading is now an exercise of studying why someone has used words a certain way and what they are trying to achieve with the way the words sit on the page.

In some ways, the appearances of the words artistically tell the story in the same way a portrait captures someone’s features.

If the writer wants the reader to take in an important point, then the more white space on the page around the idea, the easier it becomes for the reader to do that.

If, instead, the writer is trying to describe a situation or scene that is very complex, then the writing is likely to be denser with longer paragraphs.

These days, it is quite usual to see a writer using single sentence paragraphs. I find these come naturally when I want to make a point, highlight an idea or focus on a scene.

This example from the prologue of my novel, Bend with the Wind, illustrates the point.

“The dawn’s grey light hangs over them. It will stay until the coffin is closed. When they no longer see the face they have gazed upon for four days, the sun will gather strength and banish the moon. Only then will its rays touch the iced over puddles. Only then, will the sun shine on Te Whiti’s monument and cast a shadow like a compass needle.


Not yet. But it will. It will.”

We have a paragraph of normal length, which draws a picture. I take my time putting each word in its place. It builds with short sentences drawing the reader to the point where the sun banishes darkness. This is a metaphor for what is to happen to Sophie in the story. She starts in darkness, in a state of not knowing, and truth, symbolised by the sun, eradicates the state of not knowing. This new state of knowing is what determines her future and the things she does.

The comparison of the shadow to the needle of a compass point also alludes to the way past events overshadow present lives.

The paragraph eases the reader towards a universal truth. This means the paragraph requires careful building of meaning which then determines its length.

But then there is a sharp short paragraph made up of several short statements. This series of three short sentences, each made up of no more than three words, is emphasising, like a bullet point, that the monument, which is of a man who stood for peace, will guide the hearts of people, even those who might be iced over and cold. It is inevitable that the truth he stood for will become a guiding principle for the future.

This is how words can say more than what they appear to say on a page. The writer can focus in on meaning, symbolism and metaphor and, by the way he or she lays the words out on the page, gain a visual image that reinforces what the words are saying.

short sentences


The short story format is difficult as a result of carefully choosing your words. Applying the same principle to a longer format is admirable. This shows how labour intensive the writing craft is.