I'm a beginner writer. I have been focusing recently on giving my characters depth. Making them complex people with complex emotions and motivations.

One of my characters is depressed. She's going through a tough time and is feeling pretty numb and disenchanted with the world. I write in the first person from her point of view, and I have found myself writing very short, concise sentences when she is depressed and longer, more descriptive, flowier emotional ones when she relaxes.

For example, a party she went to that she didn't want to be at: "I smiled. I ate. I spoke. I listened. I left."

Now naturally, the entire book isn't like this. The rest does flow, however there are situations where I feel like it's appropriate.

I like the complete lack of feeling, devoid of description or emotion, just like how she is numb.

That said, I have a couple of concerns about this technique.
- it may be jarring to the reader. It can be awkward, uncomfortable to read.
- I feel like I may be missing out on opportunities to elaborate and develop her more. I could be using these times as a chance to say a bit more about how she feels.
- I read on another answer that writing should flow like speaking does, and this goes against that.

I don't know if this kind of thing is done. Maybe my writing immaturity is showing here. Is this technique used by writers, or is it generally considered a bad idea in general to write sentences purposely devoid of detail? Is this something I should put aside until I'm more experienced and know better how to break the rules?

7 Answers 7


I think initially I was going to agree that you can keep it short for effect.

"I came. I saw. I conquered."

a fairly popular line that follows a similar premise. It has a nice flow to it. I would suggest for your example to chop it down some to be more simplified but still gets the point across.

"I ate. I smiled. I left."

This still gets the feeling that they were not really all that engaged with the event they showed up to. They managed to eat something show their face and smile then leave. I feel like what you have is getting too listy and a lot of that is implied with "I smiled".

Alternatively, if you want to flush it out more you can and still get the same feeling across. Ultimately, you want the reader to be able to feel and experience what a depressed state is like. Not everyone feels depression the same way or as deep. By turning it into a longer passage, you can help the reader understand their emotions better instead of having it be assumed with short quick sentences. The following would be something I would do as an example of flushing it out:

I made it to dinner against my wishes. Unfortunately, skipping family dinners are not negotiable. Everyone around me was like a blur; Their sounds faded into the background only hearing bits of words here and there. Every once in a while I would smile as someone walked past me sitting on the couch. Before I knew it we were eating, my head was buried in my plate as the inaudible conversations around me continued. Laughter ringing in my ears, it was more bothersome than joyous. Finally, dinner was over and something caught the adult's attention to the television. It was enough of a distraction to slip out while no one was looking. I had enough noise for the night.

While this may not be perfect, it still allows you to expand and allow the reader to dive deeper into the brain of your MC. It allows your story to help show the emotions and understanding that the MC is troubled.

Either way, I don't see anything wrong with the short choppy sentences. Just make sure it's not listy. Then it can become bothersome to read. It all depends on the mood and tone you are trying to set around that particular passage.


"I smiled. I ate. I spoke. I listened. I left."

If you are going to write from a depressed point of view, I don't think these are the thoughts of a depressed person.

For a depressed person, these are lies. They do not necessarily lie to themselves.

A more convincing internal dialogue is what they are really thinking. Depression is largely playing a negativity game, that you cannot help but play. Nothing matters. Everything is shit. Life has no meaning and there is nothing to really look forward to --- except disappointing yourself and others and ruining everything.

You can show that; I have an example off the top of my head. (consider it an illustration only; you have to get into the mindset for your character and write in your own voice.)


I hung up, and put down the phone without looking. It slipped off the table and crashed on the floor. It's probably broken, there goes four hundred dollars. I don't have the energy to pick it up and check. What difference would it make anyway? If it's broken, it's broken.

I have to go to this stupid party. That means I have to shower. That means I have to get out of this chair. I sat for another two minutes hoping some brilliant excuse would come to me, but my mind is a blank. Plus I'd need my phone to make it, and it's probably broken.

I leveraged myself out of the chair, and retrieved my phone. It wasn't broken. Too bad, I hate this phone.

After my shower, I can't stand the idea of having to pick out clothes. I stand before the mirror naked. Getting fat. Getting wrinkled. Dying more every day, like every other animal on this planet. I tried to fake a smile, for the party. Awful. Try again. Still awful, I look like a corpse.

I steel myself for the torture of selecting an outfit, and think to myself, "You know the drill. Pretend to smile, pretend to eat, pretend to listen, pretend you have a big day tomorrow and escape."


I like this idea. I was actually planning to use a similar technique in one of my own stories at once point. To address the bullet points in your question:

It may be jarring to the reader. It can be awkward, uncomfortable to read.

In this instance, I think that's a good thing. The character herself is feeling awkward and uncomfortable and you are accurately conveying that feeling to the audience.

I feel like I may be missing out on opportunities to elaborate and develop her more. I could be using these times as a chance to say a bit more about how she feels.

Perhaps. But you also state, elsewhere in the question, that "how she feels" at that precise moment is numb. In other words, she isn't feeling anything, ergo, there's not much to elaborate upon in that regard. Instead, wait until after she's left the party and she's relaxed a little, and then have her reflect on the party, her feelings about it, and anything else you feel needs elaborating.

I read on another answer that writing should flow like speaking does, and this goes against that.

See my first point. In this instance, the character's thoughts are clearly not flowing properly, and your writing conveys that.

It's a good technique, but I would advise you not to overuse it. Since her description during these scenes is deliberately sparse, they should be fairly short by nature, so what you should end up with is long periods of quiet introspection and lucidity punctuated by short, sudden bursts of numbness and dissociation.


I think it is unwise to rely on style changes to delineate a character. First, it is far from certain that the reader will notice the difference, or interpret it in the way you intend. Don't rely on subtle effects to get across key points of your story. It is hard to do well and probably will go over most reader's heads. By all means use style cues to reinforce the character portrait that you create by other methods, but don't rely on it.

You should also consider that while you start from knowing who the character is and look for ways to express that, the reader starts from not knowing who they are and trying to figure it out from the clues available. What seems to you to suggest the character you are thinking of may suggest a very different character to the reader. For instance, short clipped sentences might suggest a military background or lack of intelligence.

Characters are defined by their values and their actions and ultimately is it what you show or tell about their values and their actions that will shape the reader's view of them. Better to focus on portraying those things using conventional writing techniques than to try to encode information in your style choices.


I honestly believe that your solution is good, and it might work. I would not worry about being "awkward and uncomfortable to read" because you don't have to please the reader if that is the effect you are going for.

I would just recommend two things:

  1. Don't make it artificial. If you aim for realism, go for short sentences like you say but don't make them sound unrealistic, or flat. Listen to conversations of introverted people, and ask yourself if they are really talking like that.
  2. Don't limit to the dialogue she speaks. There are thousands of non-verbal actions that can show the inner state of a person, other than how she speaks. If you mix both action and dialogue in a proper way, you can depict a good character.

For what it is worth, this seems quite effective to me. It is always difficult to write in first person, and when the narrator is challenged in some way, it also challenges the writer. But accepting a challenge and overcoming it can be the recipe for particularly distinctive or affecting work --if you succeed. I always encourage writers to listen for their own voice, because writing that is merely good can be forgettable.

I think you've correctly identified the key dangers here: annoying the reader, being unable to develop the character, and having a unnatural sounding speaking pattern. Now that you've identified them, however, the way forward might not be abandoning your own style, but rather figuring out how to make it work for you. Books from Room to Flowers For Algernon have figured out ways around those exact same problems, and been rewarded for it.

With that in mind, as others have mentioned, this sounds more like your narrator talking to someone --a therapist perhaps? --than an internal monologue. You might consider adding a frame story of some sort that could explain that fact. That could also give you a natural way to alternate first-person and third-person sections if that seems useful.


Using different types of sentences to create different effects, express the different feelings of the characters, change the atmosphere or mood, etc. -- this is the craft of writing. Sentences devoid of detail aren't wrong, if they are used to create the effect the writer wants. Think about one word sentences, quite common in good modern fiction -- pace, pause, surprise, suspense -- these are some of the effects that can be created.

If it is jarring for the reader and you don't want it to be so, it is wrong; if it is jarring for the reader and you want it to be so, it is right. If a character needs more elaboration, give her more. If she needs less elaboration, elaborate her less. There aren't rules you can follow here: you have to decide for yourself what the reader wants to read.

The example you give with the string of two word sentences is great (if it fits with the rest of what you want to say about the character).

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