A VERY SHORT SENTENCE is a sentence or sentence fragment of no more than five words, used to add suspense, action or simply punch to a piece of text.
“As a rule, writers tend to use long, flowing sentences for description and short, quick sentences for action. Too many sentences of the same length and structure can sound choppy and monotonous, not unlike driving in stop-and-start traffic.
But if all the sentences are too long, the writing can become unwieldy, and readers may get lost on the way. The solution is variety. The occasional Very Short Sentence (VSS)—or sentence fragment—of three-to-five words can punch up a series of longer flowing sentences and make the reader sit up and take notice.
Allowing students to use sentence fragments in writing is controversial among teachers. For the most part, we want our students to understand and use complete sentences, particularly in formal writing. Sometimes, however, a fragment can be powerful enough to stand alone and add punch to the text. Why should we prohibit our students from using a structure that they see in published writing all the time? And that includes sentences beginning with conjunctions like and and but, which occur in almost 10% of published writing, according to the Chicago Manual of Style!”
– Marvelous Minilessons for Teaching Intermediate Writing, page 103
I scribbled some lame excuse to my mother, then took off for Cullen’s house. I dashed over to the east side, snuck along the back and tried the patio door. Locked. To one side was a basement window, half-open already. I took my house key and sliced the screen, then pushed the screen up and slid out the window. Easy as pie.
Excerpt from Curse of the Skull by Paul Kropp
TEACHING THE VSS
Look at text samples such as the excerpt from Curse of the Skull. Talk about the effect of very short “sentences” like “Locked.” and “Easy as pie.” Authors often insert short sentences or parts of sentences to add action or suspense to a piece of writing. Usually these are no longer than five words and might include exclamations (“Oh no!”), questions (“What could I do?”) or complete sentences (“I couldn’t believe it.”) This is a time when incomplete sentences or fragments are acceptable (“Not again.”) Too many Very Short Sentences (VSS) can make writing sound choppy, but used sparingly, the VSS can add punch to a piece of writing.
Have students collaborate on revising a sample text by adding one or two VSS.
Have students revise a piece of their own writing by adding one or two VSS (or sentence fragments). Suggest that they read their writing out loud to ensure that the additional sentences make it sound more fluent.