Roald Dahl is famous for writing silly phrases but also short sentences in his stories. For some, short sentences are a sign of weak writing skills—but that isn’t true of Dahl. So, why did Dahl use such short sentences?
Roald Dahl used short sentences because he primarily wrote for kids. Also, he often wrote from a child’s perspective, so using short sentences seemed natural to him. Dahl was also influenced by Ernest Hemingway, who also wrote concise sentences.
Long sentences and complicated narrative prose don’t automatically mean a good literary work, and Dahl knew that. So, I’ll present a few reasons Dahl preferred short sentences in his stories. I’ll also discuss other literary devices he used apart from concise sentences.
You’ll love Roald Dahl’s fiction if you’re a fan of quick, witty, and short sentences. The following sections will outline precisely why he wrote the way he did.
Dahl used short sentences to maintain his (typically young) readers’ attention. After all, it’s pretty easy to lose the attention of a three-lines-long sentence unless it’s really well-written.
If you’re writing a long sentence with many adjectives and clauses, readers tend to forget the main point of a sentence. This is especially true of young readers.
To writers, periods are like a nice stop next to a road. You can relax there a bit and then continue your journey. Those small pauses keep the readers’ attention. Modern readers especially appreciate smaller chunks of information packed in short sentences.
Dahl understood that and wrote his books accordingly.
Dahl wrote his books primarily for children. Therefore, his writing style needed to be suitable for younger readers. With kids, attention isn’t the only issue. They also have a hard time understanding some complex concepts, like loyalty or love.
So, Dahl used shorter sentences to make it easier for kids to follow the story without being lost in highly moral or abstract notions. If he hadn’t, parents would spend too much time re-reading long-winded sentences filled with extra information for their kids.
Dahl’s books are famous for their language. His writing style’s filled with irony and important lessons which adults and children remember long after reading a Dahl book. Part of the reason it’s so easy to remember those clever utterances is that they’re short.
People don’t usually memorize long sentences because it’s just too much work. But when you have a wise saying compacted into a few words, it just sticks with you forever. Those short sayings aren’t any less impressive than some sentences from Charles Dickens’s novels.
Who could forget the sentence from Matilda: “If you are good, life is good.” Concise and yet wise.
The speed a story runs by—the story’s pace—is critical for any book, especially a kids’ book. If the pace is too slow, young readers may lose attention or get bored quickly, but it’s more than that. The quality of the work suffers also. Instead of an enticing plot that moves quickly and has a lot of action, you get a boring snail-speed-paced plot.
Believe it or not, a sentence’s length is essential in establishing a plot’s pace. Although writers use longer sentences for descriptions, shorter sentences are perfect for action and movement. It’s like when kids are watching cartoons. They’re always fast-paced and filled with activity.
Since Dahl wrote many of his books from a child’s perspective, it was only natural to use short sentences. Kids aren’t exactly running around citing long speeches to everybody. Any kids’ author needs to understand how kids think and behave. That’s why Dahl also tried to imitate kids’ use of language.
That way, kids could perfectly understand other child characters in Dahl’s books, no matter how different they might be.
One of the biggest influences on Dahl’s writing style was Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway also wrote short sentences without unnecessary elements, like extra adjectives and adverbs. In a letter to Jay Williams, Dahl even mentioned Hemingway as a good writing model.
Apart from all those aspects above, Dahl also developed his writing style based on some writers he admired and read.
Apart from short sentences, Dahl’s also famous for other literary devices and styles. Some of the stylistic techniques Dahl used in his books include:
- Spoonerism: Dahl often experimented with language. This includes inventing new words and spoonerisms. When you switch two corresponding sounds in a phrase, that’s called spoonerism. One example Dahl used is ‘catasterous disastrophe.’
- Irony: Dahl made much use of an ironic tone in his fiction. Irony’s especially strong when narrators describe adult characters who are often the main villains in a book. It’s the primary source of humor in Dahl’s books, followed by silly episodes.
- Simile: A simile is when you compare two objects with similar qualities. For instance, “tall like a building.” Dahl used similes extensively in his books to make it easier for kids to imagine his extraordinary characters.
- Hyperbole: Hyperbole is an over-exaggeration of certain qualities. Almost every character in Dahl’s books is described through hyperbole. They’re usually highly tall, fat, or ugly—also, Dahl liked to exaggerate their facial looks (large noses).
Roald Dahl was one of the most memorable kids’ literature writers. Part of the reason was his use of short, straightforward sentences that conveyed strong and memorable ideas.
Although he predominantly wrote for children, adults can still enjoy his better-known books. His captivating characters and short sentences make them easy to read and enjoyable for people of all ages.
To see other books Dahl wrote, read my article How Many Children’s Books Did Roald Dahl Write? If you’re still unsure about reading kids’ books, you’ll be happy to know I also included his books intended for adults.
- British Council: What Do We Learn from Roald Dahl’s Creative Use of Language?
- Twinkl: Roald Dahl Quotes About Life, Love and More
- Linkedin: Write Short: How to Write Like Hemingway and Dahl
- Reference: Why Do Writers Use Short Sentences?
- ThoughtCo. Biography of Roald Dahl, British Novelist
- eNotes: What Is the Writing Style of Roald Dahl in His Stories for Children?
- Road Dahl Presentation: Roald Dahl’s Writing Style & Themes