Express your most powerful thought in the shortest sentence, writes Roy Peter Clark in The New York Times (9/8/13). Roy says he gained this insight while "watching an interview" of William F. Buckley, Jr. and Tom Wolfe, in which Mr. Wolfe said: "If you ever have a preposterous statement to make … say it in five words or less, because we’re always used to five-word sentences as being the gospel truth." This insight is actually "centuries old." Shakespeare, for instance, "had a messenger deliver the news to Macbeth in six words: ‘The Queen, my lord, is dead’."
The short sentence reaches its fullest potential when paired with longer sentences. For example, in Animal Farm, George Orwell wrote: "It was a pig walking on its hind legs. Yes, it was Squealer … And finally there was a tremendous baying of dogs and a shrill crowing from the black cockerel, and out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side, and with his dogs gamboling round him. He carried a whip in his trotter." The final, seven-word "whip" sentence is all the more powerful "after a sentence that stretches to 38 words."
Similarly, a 2006 obituary "of a chimpanzee named Herman," published in the St. Petersburg Times, read: "Altogether, he lived at Lowry Park Zoo for 35 years. He lasted there longer than any other creature and longer than any of the humans. Each of the 1,800 animals at the zoo is assigned a number. His was 00001." The "most telling detail" was telegraphed in two words and a number. The same effect could not have been achieved with a series of short sentences, each slowing "the reader down, each period acting as a stop sign. That slow pace can bring clarity, create suspense or magnify emotion, but it can also become tedious." Indeed, it does.