Writing Rhythm: Enhance Your Storytelling with Sentence Variation

Like a chart-topping song you can’t get out of your head, a good novel has a beat and a writing rhythm. Be it a breezy tempo or an intense pulse, your cadence is the mood of your story — and you want to make sure that mood matches your message. A bouncy, upbeat tune would feel inappropriate for a detective examining a crime scene, just as a slow, melancholic melody would make it hard for two best friends to fall in love.

In other words, how you write matters just as much as what you write.

It’s easy to think of rhythm the same way we think of talent. After all, books that flow feel effortless. The authors who pen them seem to play with words as naturally as Mozart played the piano. But trust me, the effort is there. The ultimate words on the page are rarely the first. What you’re reading has been fine-tuned, tweaked, and adjusted to set that near-perfect pacing. It’s as intentional as a ballad’s crescendo or a rap’s beat drop. 

So how can you harness the power of writing rhythm? You employ one of the oldest literary devices in the book: sentence variation.

What is writing rhythm and sentence variation?

Sentence variation is the art of mixing up sentence structure to reduce the amount of repetition in your writing. You do this by:

  • Shifting between short and long sentences
  • Varying the beginnings of your sentences
  • Using different types of sentences
  • Playing with format
  • Changing up your vocabulary and punctuation

Humans have notoriously short attention spans, and our brains quickly adapt to patterns. If your sentences all follow the same structure, they become predictable, flat, and insanely boring. Take a look at the example below.

The sun was setting. The sky turned a beautiful shade of orange. A warm breeze blew through the trees. Birds chirped their evening songs.

A total snoozefest, right? Luckily, it doesn’t take much to give this yawn-worthy passage a bit of a beat.

As the sun began to set, the sky turned a beautiful shade of orange and a warm breeze blew through the trees. Birds chirped their evening songs.

Changing out three short sentences for one long one may not seem like much on the page. But when you read it out loud, the difference is clear. Whereas the first version reads like a list of events, the second feels like an evening winding down — and that’s exactly the point.

Tips for varying your sentences

Now that you see how sentence variation can change the entire tone of your writing, let’s break down some techniques to help you master it.

Mix up long and short sentences

If you’re just dipping your feet wet in the world of sentence variation, this is the easiest place to start. Simply vary the length of your sentences. Here’s a great example from The Kitchen Congregation by Nora Seton:

“She was a good cook. People remember that about her. Oh yes, yes, she wrote several novels, received critical acclaim, battled cancer, raised five children. But she was a good cook. She was a good cook not because the feeding of a family of seven, plus routine entertaining, and the importation of odd sojourners into our house for months at a time beat the basics into her. She thought about it. She cared.”

See how effective that is? It’s like playing with a yo-yo. The shifting lengths keep you on your toes and engaged in the story. Make it a rule to never have two sentences in a row with the same number of words, and watch how much more interesting your writing becomes.

Vary sentence beginnings

Another fun way to practice variation is to play with your sentence starters. If you usually go for subject-verb-object, try switching up the order or adding another element. Throw in a prepositional phrase or start with an adverb. Many writers treat style rules as gospel when, in reality, they’re just guidelines. Ones you can bend (and even break) at will.

Read everything out loud

Writing isn’t just about how your words look on the page; it’s also about how they sound in your ear. Reading out loud can help you catch awkward or repetitive phrasing and give you a better sense of rhythm. If a sentence feels clunky or doesn’t flow well when spoken, it’s time to mix things up.

Trouble finding the beat?

Learning how to vary sentence structure takes practice, and it may not come naturally at first. Like musicians who tinker endlessly to create the perfect melody, writers must willingly rework their words until they’re right. There is no magic trick. You just have to keep showing up.

But if you want someone to jam with, click here to learn more about my book coaching and book editing services. I can review your manuscript, point out places where you could use a bit more variation, and provide additional insight to prepare your book for publication or work with you one-on-one to develop, draft, or revise your novel.

Writing may be a solo sport, but that doesn’t mean you have to play alone. Together, we can write some beautiful music.

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Story Coach, Story Development

I’m Pam, Your Story Coach

I help busy professionals write and polish the book of their dreams. Let’s bring authenticity to your speculations, flow to your structure, and heart to your words.

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