Style Training With Ursula K. Le Guin, Exercise.3.1. (SHORT SENTENCES)

This is yet another piece of writing which results from one of the exercises proposed by the great Ursula K. LeGuin in her book ‘Steering the Craft’ (A book I would recommend to all intermediate – experienced writers). For this exercise, I was asked to experience with prose, the size of sentences and clauses I create. I was instructed to write a paragraph of 100-150 words wherein the size of sentences should not surpass 7 words or less per sentence. Each having to be grammatically correct, with SVO pattern(SUBJECT, VERB. OBJECT IS OPTIONAL). Fragmented sentences are BANNED, ILLEGAL, WE MUST HISS AT THEM. The goal is to, once more, observe what effect this may have on one’s prose when writing a specific type of scene. The great Le Guin proposes a scene of tension. Thus, I followed her wise advice:


“The door opened. Its hinges wail. Slowly, softly, he enters the room. Darkness shrouds him. Silence threatens to reveal him. He glides across the floor. His nerves are tense as a bowstring. Suddenly, he hits something. It is a circular, sharp object. His toe had stepped on it. The pain is atrocious. He grunts. But then, he hears movement. There’s a rustle of sheets. A moan resounds. Someone is here. They’re sleeping. More moans are emitted. Jack’d sworn the room would be empty. Jack’d been wrong. He touches his pocket. The blade is still stowed there. Will he have to use it? He hopes not. The moans stop. He gulps and pauses a while. Then, he walks back towards the door. Shuts the door. Fuck Jack! He could do his own goddamn stealing.”


What did I learn?: For one, the power this type of technique can have on a scene of tension. The prose is as tense and tight as the scene. It reflects very much the atmosphere that was wished to be captured here. This works. I will undoubtedly have a go at this again in the future, and use it when I can in my personal work!
Secondly, I noticed how well reported speech works with this technique. I am not sure other types of voices would work as well…
Thirdly, I learned how complicated it can be to actually compose 100+ words with no fragmented sentences. This showed me I have a habit for such formulations. They are not always necessary, sometimes they get in the way of my prose. Before writing a scene, I will carefully think about this next time. What prose would best capture the sentiment I wish to portray?

Thank you, Le Guin, as usual, your exercises are gold.

11 thoughts on “Style Training With Ursula K. Le Guin, Exercise.3.1. (SHORT SENTENCES)

  1. This kind of exercise also reminds that long sentences aren’t always needed. As a non-native speaker, shorter sentences are way safer than longer ones, as it’s easy to drown your verb in a long sentence. Of course, sometimes, we just can’t avoid it, and we’ll have longer sentences in our writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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