Shakespearan prose, Charles Dickens, “War and Peace,” articles from The New Yorker, sometimes come to mind when it comes to good writing. They are markers of good literature and arguably good writing, but as with many things in life including fashion and music, the definition of what is “good” can swiftly change.
Still good writing for the young writer may be perceived as quantity -- long sentences and big words. “Shouldn’t be use bigger words Ms. Wu?” my students ask me, seemingly half believing me when I shake my head, “Noooo.” Understandably they are often hungry to showcase the breadth of their vocabulary, but there is a time and place.
Most importantly is clearly communicating a message to your reader. Less is often more.
Traditionally news writing – with its inverse pyramid structure-- lends itself to shorter sentences, but in the age of Twitter and Facebook, the trend is swiftly moving towards shorter pieces if not text messaging speak and emoji.
Twitter, one of the most popular social networking platforms, limits sentences to 140 characters. Academic journals, known for big words and lengthy articles, are even cutting back on their word limit. Reader’s Digest recently started the 100-word story series, encouraging readers to submit their pieces in the mini story format.
Here is a recent winning story:
There's so many things you'll never know about the man standing there with his thumb in the air as you go driving past. You'll never know that the flicker from his outstretched hand is the wedding ring he's been wearing again for the last five days, since the phone call he made from a rural service station somewhere south of the border, a call that crossed two states and countless memories to reach a woman in Brisbane who'd once worn the ring's other. You'll never know that what he's asking you for is not a lift, but a second chance.
Not bad, and yes only 100 words. You can do it too.