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Expressing Multiple Ideas in the Same Sentence (1 Viewer)

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lumino

Senior Member
Is it wrong to write a single sentence that moves through multiple ideas from one to the next, as long as the sentence is not difficult to read? If so, does one idea have to have a smooth logical connection to the next? If so, then wouldn't that mean that separate sentences also should not express unrelated ideas if one follows the other? What would be the difference or reason for the difference?
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
A sentence expresses a single idea. Combining multiple ideas in a single sentence is a sure sign of a run-on, or comma splice,
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
I am not sure what you are asking. It's not easy to count ideas.

A period lets the reader stop and process. That's the basic thing to remember. I collect examples of when there shouldn't be a period because the sentence doesn't make sense until the next sentence is read; I never looked for the opposite -- too many ideas in one sentence, though I think it happens.

Meanwhile, you probably shouldn't have short sentences that are unimportant. So that means bundling them. Why would the next sentence be a completely different thought? Unlikely, right?

Maybe an example of your question would help.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
The fewer ideas could mean the sentence could have better syntax and is less taxing to read. Varying sentence length helps so you can give breaks to the reader, and style also means clarity and means excellent flow. A sentence usually that expresses a complete thought has one idea, it can have two. But then the more you add to a sentence and it starts to get complicated.
 

Bayview

WF Veterans
There may be a distinction to be made between, say, layering ideas and having stripes of ideas, if that makes any sense? (I just made those terms up and I don't think they're that good - if something is layered, it'd be striped if you looked at it from another angle, right? So... think of better terms!) But the general idea would be that I think it's great to have text and subtext, or fact and symbolism or whatever all layered into the same work and, yes, sometimes, into the same sentence. The same phrase can mean different things at different levels. Like, Atticus Finch saying "'Remember, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird'" doesn't just mean birds should be protected by conservation laws. There's more going on in that sentence. Layers.

But it's generally not a good idea to have different ideas in the same sentence all coming from the same layer of the story, if that makes sense? Like, "She loved her husband and the room was painted in cheery blue with white trim," is a weird, awkward sentence and I don't think it should be used unless you're trying to create a weird, awkward effect.

I agree that a concrete example might help us understand what kind of sentence you're looking at.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
T
But it's generally not a good idea to have different ideas in the same sentence all coming from the same layer of the story, if that makes sense? Like, "She loved her husband and the room was painted in cheery blue with white trim," is a weird, awkward sentence and I don't think it should be used unless you're trying to create a weird, awkward effect.

Counting ideas still seems perilous, but maybe lumino had a fair question. Turning yours into two sentences probably doesn't help. So the problem wasn't one sentence.

She loved her husband. The room was painted in cheery blue with white trim.

And this looks ordinary to me:

As she looked out at her room, painted in cherry blue with white trim, she realized she loved her husband.

I don't think I would ever write that. But I often am told my writing is choppy. Some typical book starts:

My name is Nick Pellisante, and this is where it started for me, one summer out on Long Island at the "wedding of weddings." (Patterson and Gross)

"You're not late Beatrice," my mom said as she rolled the Prius to a stop in front of Spencer's house at exactly two minutes to eight.
 

Bayview

WF Veterans

Unless there's a connection between the colours of the room and the affection for the husband, I don't think your "As she looked out at her room..." sentence is any better than my original example of weirdness. I want a sentence to be a coherent whole, not a bunch of bits glued together for no apparent reason.
 

JustRob

FoWF
WF Veterans
If you put ideas together in the same sentence then the reader is likely to assume that there is a connection between them even if they can't work out what it is. This may be disconcerting. In the case of the cheery blue room and loving her husband I came to the conclusion that there was a connecting idea at work there, that had she not loved her husband then the room would have seemed a dismal blue instead to match her own blues. The cheeriness was simply a subjective impression that reflected her own feelings. Colours aren't cheerful in their own right to my mind. However, without any confirmation from the writer about this I would wonder whether I had truly understood what was implied. This is the potential problem, that multiple ideas within a single sentence may imply a deeper meaning, even when there isn't one. Sending the reader's mind on what may be a wild goose chase like this isn't constructive.

I'm still wondering whether I was right about the intended interpretation of that sentence now. That is truly annoying. You see?
 

Bayview

WF Veterans
If you put ideas together in the same sentence then the reader is likely to assume that there is a connection between them even if they can't work out what it is. This may be disconcerting. In the case of the cheery blue room and loving her husband I came to the conclusion that there was a connecting idea at work there, that had she not loved her husband then the room would have seemed a dismal blue instead to match her own blues. The cheeriness was simply a subjective impression that reflected her own feelings. Colours aren't cheerful in their own right to my mind. However, without any confirmation from the writer about this I would wonder whether I had truly understood what was implied. This is the potential problem, that multiple ideas within a single sentence may imply a deeper meaning, even when there isn't one. Sending the reader's mind on what may be a wild goose chase like this isn't constructive.

I'm still wondering whether I was right about the intended interpretation of that sentence now. That is truly annoying. You see?

I agree - depending on the context, the sentence may make perfect sense.
Rhonda loved dark colours. She loved eggplant and mocha and currant and all the other colours named after foods. She had a vision of her house as a study in browns and deep purples and huge swaths of black.

Ronald liked bright colours, the ones that matched his personality. When they renovated their kitchen, Ronald told Rhonda he trusted her taste and she should decorate it as she saw fit. Rhonda was tempted. Truly tempted. But she loved her husband and the room was painted in cheery blue with white trim.


(The above passage should not be read as an endorsement of Ronald's taste or Rhonda's decision. Dark kitchens are NICE.)
 

qwertyman

WF Veterans
emma said:
I don't think I would ever write that. But I often am told my writing is choppy. Some typical book starts:

"You're not late Beatrice," my mom said as she rolled the Prius to a stop in front of Spencer's house at exactly two minutes to eight.


Dialogue tag followed by action? Three character introductions and a time check all in one sentence... in the first line of a book?

You're a risk taker Emma.


 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Is it wrong to write a single sentence that moves through multiple ideas from one to the next, as long as the sentence is not difficult to read? If so, does one idea have to have a smooth logical connection to the next? If so, then wouldn't that mean that separate sentences also should not express unrelated ideas if one follows the other? What would be the difference or reason for the difference?

A sentence expresses a single idea. Combining multiple ideas in a single sentence is a sure sign of a run-on, or comma splice,

Mmm, I don't agree. This is what conjunctions are for. A comma splice or run on sentence is this:

"I went to the shop, I skied because it had been snowing all night."

Whereas the same thing can be portrayed:

"I went to the shop, skiing because it had snowed all night."

Of course you could argue that that is one idea. Okay, let's think of two unrelated ideas and relate them. Let's say someone is desperately trying to make a phone call and in a completely different location, a leaf falls from a tree into a pond, spreading gentle ripples.

"Arrowsmith jabbed buttons on his phone, a leaf fell from a maple a hundred miles to the north where it kissed the pond's glassy surface."
Total crap, right?

"Arrowsmith jabbed buttons on his phone, and a leaf fell from a maple a hundred miles to the north where it kissed the pond's glassy surface."

So there, not only have we syntactically joined unrelated ideas, we end up subtly suggesting some relation between them. I didn't intend that connection; it just happened. So maybe if you want unrelated things, put them in different spots.
 

Bayview

WF Veterans
Yeah, as JustRob pointed out, if the ideas are in the same sentence I'm going to expect them to be connected. So if the leaf has nothing to do with the phone call, I don't think they should be in the same sentence. If the leaf does​ have something to do with the phone call, then I'd say they're not really multiple ideas in the same sentence.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Yeah, as JustRob pointed out, if the ideas are in the same sentence I'm going to expect them to be connected. So if the leaf has nothing to do with the phone call, I don't think they should be in the same sentence. If the leaf does​ have something to do with the phone call, then I'd say they're not really multiple ideas in the same sentence.

Actually, I love using unrelated ideas to generate plots. A man makes a phone call and a hundred miles north, a maple leaf suddenly detaches from its branch and see-saws to the forest floor. The potential links between those two things just screams to be written, for me, for some reason. I need to know why they are linked and by what mechanism. I conjure up all sorts of machinations and conspiracies that not just link the two but make them part of something far larger. It just really excites me. Even this chat has got me wanting to include those two events in a sort of mystery WIP I am working on.
 

Bayview

WF Veterans
Actually, I love using unrelated ideas to generate plots. A man makes a phone call and a hundred miles north, a maple leaf suddenly detaches from its branch and see-saws to the forest floor. The potential links between those two things just screams to be written, for me, for some reason. I need to know why they are linked and by what mechanism. I conjure up all sorts of machinations and conspiracies that not just link the two but make them part of something far larger. It just really excites me. Even this chat has got me wanting to include those two events in a sort of mystery WIP I am working on.

Absolutely, if you put the work into connecting them! But then I'd say they aren't actually unconnected, right?

If you just write two unrelated ideas in the same sentence and then don't show how they actually are related? I think that'd be sloppy.
 

JustRob

FoWF
WF Veterans
I think that the reader's mind will always gravitate towards a single common idea as the purpose of a sentence if it can find one. For example, six shoppers walk out of a supermarket into the car park, where three cars are driving in and a brass band is marching past. Are any of these details relevant to the story in themselves or is the writer just making the point that there are a lot of people around? By listing various events the sentence implies that what is currently important is that there is a list, maybe of potential witnesses to a crime. Multiple statements within a sentence imply that it is making a statement about those statements rather than just presenting them to the reader in isolation. In other words the most functional word in that sentence is "and". Even though it isn't a verb itself it implies one within the reader's mind.

We have to remember that our language is often abbreviated so much that even something like "Me?" is valid as a sentence and therefore our minds are ready to restore the omitted words to complete the meaning, even if the writer didn't intend them to be there but was just writing long sentences for the heck of it. If the sentence had been written "There were six shoppers walking out of the supermarket, three cars driving in ..." then it would have been clear that what most likely mattered was how much activity there was in the vicinity, but even without the embracing statement "There were ..., ... and ..." the "and" by itself implies this just because it is a single sentence and there ought to be a good reason why it is.

In our everyday use of language we economise by omitting words and phrases that can be inferred from the overall context, but this is such a natural use of language that as readers we can't turn off the process of inference in our minds when a writer doesn't intend us to apply it but is accidentally giving us the signals that tell us that we should, for example by putting multiple unrelated ideas in the same sentence. At least that's what happens in my mind when I read such things. When I started to write fiction I read books not on writing but on the psychology of reading because that is where it all really happens, in the reader's mind. I think that a writer needs to understand the setting for his work, i.e. a reader's mind, just as much as a playwrite needs to understand the structure of a theatre and what is possible there.
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
Mmm, I don't agree. This is what conjunctions are for. A comma splice or run on sentence is this:

"I went to the shop, I skied because it had been snowing all night."

Whereas the same thing can be portrayed:

"I went to the shop, skiing because it had snowed all night."

Of course you could argue that that is one idea. Okay, let's think of two unrelated ideas and relate them. Let's say someone is desperately trying to make a phone call and in a completely different location, a leaf falls from a tree into a pond, spreading gentle ripples.

"Arrowsmith jabbed buttons on his phone, a leaf fell from a maple a hundred miles to the north where it kissed the pond's glassy surface."
Total crap, right?

"Arrowsmith jabbed buttons on his phone, and a leaf fell from a maple a hundred miles to the north where it kissed the pond's glassy surface."

So there, not only have we syntactically joined unrelated ideas, we end up subtly suggesting some relation between them. I didn't intend that connection; it just happened. So maybe if you want unrelated things, put them in different spots.

That's still only one idea. The purpose of that sentence is show that somehow the two events are linked. The linkage is the topic, the idea, of the sentence.
 

JustRob

FoWF
WF Veterans
I just wrote another response to this thread, got bored and didn't post it. In what way are the multiple ideas in that sentence connected, if any? There are multiple possible implications in it but you can't tell which are relevant because you don't have the context, this logically not being the response that I didn't post. In fact if I hadn't typed that other response I wouldn't have thought of this one at all ... I'm rambling again, aren't I? I must be bored.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
I just wrote another response to this thread, got bored and didn't post it. In what way are the multiple ideas in that sentence connected, if any? There are multiple possible implications in it but you can't tell which are relevant because you don't have the context, this logically not being the response that I didn't post. In fact if I hadn't typed that other response I wouldn't have thought of this one at all ... I'm rambling again, aren't I? I must be bored.

It seems to be the suggestion of a relationship, or the promise of one.

That's still only one idea. The purpose of that sentence is show that somehow the two events are linked. The linkage is the topic, the idea, of the sentence.

That's true. It doesn't appear possible to put two ideas into a sentence without relating them in some way. Very interesting. Even if you state their unrelatedness they still just ... have to be connected.

Beneath the steel grey of a Bavarian winter sky, Bob shook his head while in a completely unrelated event, four cars piled into a stalled grain truck on a California freeway.

Looking at it now, this sort of trick seems to make for quite hooky first lines...
 
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