How to write well? Writing tips. Writing rules. How to be a better writer?

In 2014, when conducting writing seminars, I discussed this piece by Provost. As authors, we are supposed to be creative people, thinking people, people who push boundaries.

After more than 30 years, this seductive piece continues to circulate within literary circles in Singapore.

Provost 5-word Sentences

Authors, and indeed all truly creative people, challenge the norm; ask questions; and  venture where no one else has or dares to. You see this trait not only in the generally accepted creative fields but also in science and industry, business and government, and, in social and military fields – indeed in all fields of human endeavour.

Read Provost’s first paragraph aloud. A poor reader would put you off or put you to sleep. He is right; several same length sentences can be monotonous. However, a good reader (bring out the closet actor in you) injects life into the paragraph – even if all the sentences are five words’ length.

It is not easy to write a decent length paragraph using only five-word or any fixed-length sentences. Even Provost, perhaps unknowingly, admits to this by resorting to a contraction – It’s (instead of, it is) like a stuck record.

Writing sentences of varying lengths is natural to all and, to begin with, there is no problem. Therefore, I do not understand what Provost is crowing about. However, Provost is right when he says we have to write music. Then, he gallops away and blames the wrong horse.

It is not the word-length of sentences but the number of syllables and the rhythm – the sound, as Provost calls it – that matters, that makes music.

You can write 5-word sentences in an entire paragraph and even in an entire book (though this is extremely difficult to pull off) and have music. The test? Read his 5-word paragraph again. Depending on how you read – it can be musical or “boring”.

Perhaps I missed the plot. Was that a pun 🙂

What do you reckon?

************ Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2016 ************


  1. Dear Eric,

    Greetings from many miles away. ‘Tis been awhile, hasn’t it? But always nice to return.

    Your post, I agree wholeheartedly. Cadence and diversity; integral keys. Your words make me pause. I return to my prose. Are there lines somewhat jarring? I ponder, weighing each word.

    Thank you for your insights. They remain—always—a pleasure. Bidding you peace of mind.

    Take care, my fine friend!

    Paul (the writer from afar) 

    1. Dear Paul,
      Many happy returns and yes, it’s been awhile which renders your visit and comment even more welcomed.
      How have you been?
      I read your recent post (from February) where you highly recommended your car dealer. I’ll return to post my comment.
      Thank you for regarding well my take on weaving “music” into our writing. The internet is filled with much information and it is indeed a task to sieve through and pick out the nuggets.
      All good wishes and thoughts,

  2. Thank you. A writer is never satisfied with his/her work even when published. That work is read and re-read looking at how the passage could have been reworded to express the thought better.

    1. Very true, Ian.
      I rewrote my first novel, Beck & Call, 25 times – and this in addition to all the usual editing work. The book started life as a 125,000 tome and the final print was 86,000 words. What I find is – even now when I read my novel, I get pulled into it and — also discover sentences and phrases that I could have done better.
      All good wishes,

  3. I think of the extreme, to have a monotone person read a best selling author’s book can still put you to sleep.

  4. I learned the same way. The instruction I received from my mentor and writing coach taught the same approach in writing. It helped me more creative with words and sentences.

    1. Hello Joyce,
      Looks like you’re lucky to have found a great mentor/writing coach.
      All good wishes,
      P/s How are the plans for the anniversary cruise coming along?

      1. They’re great. We are scheduled to leave July 13th, flying up to (via 3 flights) from Denver to Fairbanks, Al. to begin the 3 day land tour with Denali Park included and depart on the cruise on the 16th leaving from Anchorage for the next seven days, so will be a nice cruise. We’re really looking forward to it. I plan to take lots of pictures. 🙂

  5. When I write a blog post, I read it out loud to see how it flows. And I listen to the cadence and edit when necessary to improve it. What a neat post Eric! <3
    Diana xo

    1. Hello there, Dianna – one of my fav gals 🙂
      Yes, that’s what I do too – read out loud and if it is dialogue, try to get into character when reading. Then begins the 27th rewrite 🙁
      All good wishes,

  6. I recently posted about Samuel Beckett’s novels. Beckett was a master (or a joker!) when it came to comically long sentences and jarring short ones.

    1. It is so obvious, is it not. Yet this piece was posted as recently as last week by a script writing group that encompasses most of the top scriptwriters in Singapore. When the errors were pointed out via a link to my blog – their response was typically Singaporean – silence.
      Oh well, have a good one 🙂

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