Virtual Blog Tour Feature Joe McCoubrey: Writing Styles

The long and the short of author writing styles

A Joe McCoubrey Thriller

I’m delighted to guesting with Catrina Taylor on The Writing Network this week. Being among some of the experts of the book industry is rather daunting, particularly when my subject is all about different writing styles. They know more about these things than I do, but here’s my own take on the subject.
To what extent do wannabee/established writers and authors pay attention to the sentence, paragraph and chapter construction of their stories?

There are numerous pitfalls awaiting the unwary, and some thought should be given as to how the finished article actually looks. Just to add to the quandary of writers there are no industry rules or guidelines. You’ve got to go with your own style, mindful only that you want readers to stick with you as they navigate their way through the lines you have created across the page.

For my own part I don’t like a sentence that goes beyond 6 lines. No amount of grammatical intersections (commas, semi-colons etc.) will compensate for the fact that by the end of the sentence the average reader will need to draw breath – and probably not want to be put through much more of the same. There are exceptions, of course. It’s perfectly okay to have sentences in excess of 6 lines – just not every sentence (or even every fourth sentence). At the other end of the scale short, pithy sentences can be rather pleasant to encounter – provided they are not the norm for a book full of half-line or single-line offerings.

The same thought must be given to the length of paragraphs. If, for example, you push together two or three long-winded sentences into a paragraph you are in danger of taking up a complete page without the benefit of a break. The average paperback has 30-32 lines of text, compared to just 24 lines on a Kindle. I’ve seen too many Kindle books with paragraphs that fill the complete page, and then some. Not only does it not look right, it somehow doesn’t feel right.
I may be an author but I’m also a reader. When I come across a monstrosity such as I’ve just described, I invariably hit the ‘home’ button on Kindle and pick another book that will be less foreboding. Nowhere more than in books does the ‘quality-over-quantity’ adage most assuredly apply.

Beware going too far the other way! Unless you’re a James Patterson (and let’s face it, there’s really only one around!) stay away from 2 to 3 line paragraphs as a template for your style. It is one of the most difficult blueprints I can imagine.
When you progress from the length of sentences to the length of paragraphs, the next step is the length of chapters. I recently read a 360-page actioner that had just 8 (yes EIGHT) chapters. You do the math. For me, having to wait 35 pages for a break or a twist is really 27 pages too much. By now you’ll have guessed I’m an 8-page chapter kind of a guy. I can tolerate two pages either way, but beyond that I get a little frazzled. I dare say there are others like me.

Despite all I’ve said there is nothing to beat a little mix-and-match. The very nature of stories is that you need to have creative license to drop in both long and short variations of sentences, paragraphs and chapters. However, do try to be a little consistent with your flow.

Whether you’re a writer or a reader you’ll know instinctively what I’m saying. If not, your editor (and you should always have one, particularly if you’re self-publishing) is bound to tell you.

Whichever way you go I’d love to hear your views – and I don’t mind what lengths you go to!


About the Author: Joe McCoubrey is an action thriller writer. You’ll find more info about him over at his site: http://joemccoubrey1.com/

A Joe McCoubrey Thriller

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4 Responses to Virtual Blog Tour Feature Joe McCoubrey: Writing Styles

  1. Thank you for a informative and educational article about writing. Glad to see you on the blog tour Catrina and nice job on the article Joe!

  2. Jason -I agree with your points. Although I cited 6 lines as the cut-off point for sentences, this is the maximum I would normally tolerate. I’m with you on the 3-4 line mark. I enjoyed reading your overall take on the matter. Many thanks.

  3. Speaking as an editor whose primary experience is with novels of varying description, I agree with the principles you’ve laid out here. The most important factor that determines whether your work is accessible to a wide audience, arguably more important to that end than the content itself, is the style in which it is presented. A consistently heterogeneous sentence layout, with sentences long and short, simple and detailed, concise and verbose, is the requirement to keep the average reader’s extended attention. Unless your target audience is Spock, you need to keep your work varied.

    However, as a reader attempting to reap enjoyment from both the works I edit and the works I read recreationally, and entirely as a matter of personal taste, I tend to disagree on the finer points of the article. For me, 6 lines is already entirely too long for any one sentence, and encountering too many sentences that exceed even 4 lines (though I tend to give exception to sentences that include extensive dialogue) becomes taxing. On the other hand, I personally do not enjoy short paragraphs. For me, encountering those sort of breaks every few pages breaks up the flow, and thus begins to put a strain on my attention span. Perhaps it’s because I’m a page-per-minute reader and don’t want to be interrupted every 8-10 minutes, but 20-30 pages seems to be my reading sweet spot.

    All in all, though, I agree with the points you’ve laid out, and I think that any writer would do well to consider and remember the points that have been presented here.