What Is Choppiness?
Ultimately, choppy writing does not flow. Among Merriam-Webster's definitions for choppy include “jerky” and “disconnected,” which is how this writing style feels to those reading it. It is characterized by lack of variation in sentence structure, producing too many short sentences in a row with simple subjects and predicates. And while simple sentences have their place, especially when trying to create a sense of urgency, too many of them makes your writing seem unsophisticated and communicates an inability to express complex thought.
Consider these examples:
Linda took music lessons. She was tone deaf with no sense of rhythm. She gave up the notion of becoming a concert pianist.
Sherri finishes writing a novel. She sets it aside for at least a month. She then begins revising.
James visited with us last weekend. He is my former boss.
Kristy was exhausted. She stared at the computer screen. She was unable to write a single word.
Obviously, you wouldn't want to read a book written like this, or even an article for that matter. So how can we rewrite these?
Solutions for Choppy Writing
Even the best writers will occasionally have choppy passages in their prose, so if you struggle with this, you're not alone. But as far as style problems are concerned, choppiness is easy to repair, and improving your writing flow is a skill that can be learned. Keep the following options in mind as you rewrite choppy passages.
1. Connect actions using coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. Simple sentences with the same subject can be joined with a conjunction. Applying it to one of the examples gives us this result:
Choppy: Linda took music lessons. She was tone deaf with no sense of rhythm. She gave up the notion of becoming a concert pianist.
Revised: Linda took music lessons but discovered she was tone deaf with no sense of rhythm, so she gave up the notion of becoming a concert pianist.
2. Show logical connections between ideas. Conjunctions can also assist you here, but in a different way. Rather than connecting actions by the same subject, you're showing cause and effect relationships. Let's look at another example:
Choppy: Sherri finishes writing a novel. She sets it aside for at least a month. She then begins revising.
Revised: After Sherri finishes writing a novel, she sets it aside for at least a month before she begins revising.
3. Use appositives. Appositives can be effective when you have more than one sentence with the same subject. Often one of the sentences can be reduced to a parenthetical phrase or clause set off by commas. Let's try it with one of the examples:
Choppy: James visited with us last weekend. He is my former boss.
Revised: James, my former boss, visited with us last weekend.
4. Create modifying or introductory phrases and clauses. You can also break up the monotony of choppiness by converting one or more of the sentences into introductory phrases or modifiers. And again, we can apply it to one of the example passages.
Choppy: Kristy was exhausted. She stared at the computer screen. She was unable to write a single word.
Revised: Exhausted, Kristy stared at the computer screen, unable to write a single word.
Don't Overdo It
The key here is to vary sentence structure. Some short ones are good and can have significant impact when appropriately placed. Besides too many long sentences in a row can be just as monotonous as the alternative. Also, don't string too many statements together. Long, rambling sentences can be taxing to read, and this practice can also lead to run ons.
As with anything else, moderation is key.