Writing Forums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

How do you write a long sentence that is acceptable? (1 Viewer)

Status
Not open for further replies.

lumino

Senior Member
How do you write a long sentence which cannot be criticized on the basis of clarity, coherence, etc? It seems that when I try to make a sentence longer and longer, I somehow connect information that others say should be in separate sentences and cause my syntax to become convoluted. Is there a way of writing a super long sentence, which is not burdensome to read, and which is coherent and clear? I am not sure if coherent is the right word, but I suppose you know what I mean in this post.
 

j.w.olson

Senior Member
This is a good question, but one that's hard to answer without examples.

Yes, it's possible to write long sentences that are still clear, assuming you use the right transition words and connectors and etc, and generally follow the traditions of English grammar, especially if you switch up and employ multiple structures. This previous sentence of mine may be pushing it a bit, but everything in your post looks good.

Do you have an example of a sentence that you've been told is too long, incoherent, etc? I'd be happy to jump in and give suggestions if we have specifics we can work with.
 

nanabanana

Senior Member
Why not! Long sentences are as understandable as shorter ones, if you use a good grammar. My advice would be to learn from classics. A lot of them have longer sentences than your average contemporary novel. And they're classics which have been reprinted thousands of times, so they must be good! Another suggestion is not to write all long sentences and then all short sentences. Mix them up. After a long sentence, give the reader a chance to breath with a short sentence. When you feel you can write another long phrase, and if that sounds good, do so.
 

Blackstone

Senior Member
As a general rule, long sentences should be avoided. There is a simple biological reason for this concerning breathing (when read) and a less-simple psychological reason concerning the human brain's preference for ideas to be compartmentalized into logical segments. It's kind of the same reason why the mouth can only swallow so much on a fork without rejection.

So first of all I would be interested into the reasoning behind the question. Are you trying to emulate a certain style? Some writers are able to write long sentences that do not feel overlong, or infact like one sentences at all. This is largely because of careful use of compound punctuation (commas, parentheses, dashes, etc) and is often deployed to conjure a certain voice or flow. The Rushdie example is one. Another would be Kerouac's "Big Sur" (and probably other books of his) which is a kind of avant-garde prose-poetry more than it is fiction. Kerouac does not use much punctuation other than commas and dashes. In that case, the technique is in arrangement of those commas/dashes as well as language that emulates a certain rhythm and provides a sense of clarity to what might otherwise be incoherent (and, some would argue, still kind of is).

Consider this excerpt:

“One fast move or I’m gone,” I realize, gone the way of the last three years of drunken hopelessness which is a physical and spiritual and metaphysical hopelessness you cant learn in school no matter how many books on existentialism or pessimism you read, or how many jugs of vision-producing Ayahuasca you drink, or Mescaline take, or Peyote god up with–That feeling when you wake up with the delirium tremens with the fear of eerie death dripping from your ears like those special heavy cobwebs spiders weave in the hot countries, the feeling of being a bentback madman monster groaning underground in hot steaming mud pulling a long hot burden nowhere, the feeling of standing ankle-deep in hot boiled port blood, brown dishwater not a trace of subs left in it—The face of yourself you see in the mire with it expression of unbearable anguish so hagged and awful with sorrow you cant even cry for a thing so ugly, so lost, no connection whatever with early perfection and therefore nothing to connect with tears or anything"

^ So the -dashes- kind of substitute for periods (don't know the thinking behind that) but even if we consider those as sentence markers each sentence is still rather long. If you read it out loud, however, you will find yourself adopting a certain rhythm that works to give the 'sentences' mileage. I am not a fan of this writer, however the attraction is clearly in the abundant language, the 'out of body' sensory experience in what closely resembles stream-of-consciousness. And it works.

Many Victorian/Edwardian novelists used longer sentences, particularly in Gothic novels. Though I don't recall any that are crazy long, they are nevertheless more technically complex than you would commonly find in the 20th and 21st centuries. Again I would come back to the reasons for doing this. If it is simply to impress people or establish a gimmick, I would strongly advise against it as the mere fact you are asking how to do it means it isn't your natural style. If your readers are telling you your sentences are overlong the best thing you can do - the only thing to be honest - is cut them down.
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
Is there a way of writing a super long sentence, which is not burdensome to read, and which is coherent and clear? I am not sure if coherent is the right word, but I suppose you know what I mean in this post.
Use punctuation (such as commas) to break the sentence into manageable chunks. Also, if the sentence is really long and meandering, try to keep the words simple and direct (you don't want to add word-confusion on top of sentence-confusion).

Granted, you don't want all your sentences to be long and drawn out. The reader would quickly get tired. Or annoyed. But if the writing calls for it, you should be able to stretch the occasional sentence out without sacrificing comprehension.

Example:

You can have a huge sentence, such as this one, that stretches on longer than expected, provided that you give the reader enough stopping points to breathe, to gather their wits, to center themselves at each pause before the next idea appears, this way they can run a marathon the way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time, or perhaps a better analogy would be that you're asking the reader to hike along with you, across some great distance, but to make it more manageable, you've provided benches along the way, so they can sit, and rest, and rub their feet, and look back at the vast distance that they've crossed with you so far, and they can feel like it wasn't even that vast at all, because they took it one step at a time, and they fell into the rhythm, and by the time they're ready to reach the end, the depth of your sentence will feel significant in some way, as if the journey has had a purpose, as if the meaning is symbolic and resonant, as if it all would have have felt wrong, somehow, had it been delivered in any other way.

:encouragement:
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
You can have a huge sentence, such as this one, that stretches on longer than expected, provided that you give the reader enough stopping points to breathe, to gather their wits, to center themselves at each pause before the next idea appears, [<- AARRGH!! COMMA SPLICE ALERT!!!]this way they can run a marathon the way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time, or perhaps a better analogy would be that you're asking the reader to hike along with you, across some great distance, but to make it more manageable, you've provided benches along the way, so they can sit, and rest, and rub their feet, and look back at the vast distance that they've crossed with you so far, and they can feel like it wasn't even that vast at all, because they took it one step at a time, and they fell into the rhythm, and by the time they're ready to reach the end, the depth of your sentence will feel significant in some way, as if the journey has had a purpose, as if the meaning is symbolic and resonant, as if it all would have have felt wrong, somehow, had it been delivered in any other way.

:encouragement:

Sorry Kyle! :) But this seems to me to be one of the biggest issues people have with long sentences. Coherence you can fix but for all the long-sentence enthusiasts among us (and this is otherwise a great example), unless you are going for a conversational voice, comma splices make us go ack-ack-ack!
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
Are comma splices a pet peeve of yours? :D I suppose they don't usually bother me (at least not in fiction, where prose can be a bit "looser" with grammar), unless they become excessive.

I remember first encountering the concept in a grammar book where an example was given:

Jack jumped, Jill ducked. (Incorrect)

Because Jack jumped, Jill ducked. (Correct)​

To this day I still prefer the first sentence, even if it is, technically, incorrect.

(Just out of curiosity: have you read any Cormac McCarthy? If incorrect grammar/punctuation is something that irks you, his writing might very well drive you up the wall. :p)
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/547245.Sentence_Composing_for_College

I had the exact same question. The above is a must have book for exercising/getting comfortable with sentence lengths.

It discusses participial, absolute and appositive phrases in length, teaches techniques like sentence mimicking, sentence scrambling/unscrambling and so on.

I recommend you get hold of a copy :)

That would probably work very well for non-fiction writing, but would make for terrible fiction construction. Most folks here default to fiction in discussion, but the OP's question didn't specify, so thanks for the link.

Long sentences are fine. They help to vary the pace of a story. They should not be avoided, nor should every sentence we write be long. Not all thoughts are long. The key to writing effective sentences, of any length, is using proper punctuation and careful word choice. Make your sentences clear and avoid rambling. A good sentence will deliver its message without the reader even thinking about its length. If your reader notices how long a sentence is, you've done a poor job.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Are comma splices a pet peeve of yours? :D I suppose they don't usually bother me (at least not in fiction, where prose can be a bit "looser" with grammar), unless they become excessive.

I remember first encountering the concept in a grammar book where an example was given:

Jack jumped, Jill ducked. (Incorrect)

Because Jack jumped, Jill ducked. (Correct)​

To this day I still prefer the first sentence, even if it is, technically, incorrect.

(Just out of curiosity: have you read any Cormac McCarthy? If incorrect grammar/punctuation is something that irks you, his writing might very well drive you up the wall. :p)

Haha yes they do make me froth some. :)

It's not so much the correctness of them - there is a place for them in the world - but rather where they get used. Often I see them in an otherwise gramatically solid piece and I can't figure out what they're doing there, what it adds. In the Jack-and-Jill example you give above, I dunno, that's not a great example because the tone is conversational, flowing, rapid, and judging simply by the brevity of the clauses, grammatical exactness has been thrown to the wind. And that's okay, but the idea that that somehow means they can go anywhere they please, and to hell with how they fit in the context, doesn't seem right. They can work - The Handmaid's Tale is rife with them because that's how June/Offred thinks, and while I've not read any Cormac McCarthy I imagine it's similar - but that doesn't mean they always do.

I wonder if my antipathy towards the humble CS is to do with the fact that, in a lot of early shots at writing, they are very much a first resort when people want to quickly characterise a character. The result - a lot of very cookie-cutter fiction. Anyway I sound like I'm having a go at you - I'm not! It's just that, you know, grammar is my first love, and I get defensive :) Comma-splice away, they're so great. ;)
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
... the idea that that somehow means they can go anywhere they please, and to hell with how they fit in the context, doesn't seem right. They can work - The Handmaid's Tale is rife with them because that's how June/Offred thinks, and while I've not read any Cormac McCarthy I imagine it's similar - but that doesn't mean they always do.
A very good point, I'm hungry so I'll have to leave this conversation for now, The Handmaid's Tale is still on my shelf waiting to be read, you really should read The Road to see what you think of it, now I'm comma splicing everywhere just to be a pain and your fists are probably full of hair and I should really stop before the habit irreparable leaks into my own writing... :D
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
A very good point, I'm hungry so I'll have to leave this conversation for now, The Handmaid's Tale is still on my shelf waiting to be read, you really should read The Road to see what you think of it, now I'm comma splicing everywhere just to be a pain and your fists are probably full of hair and I should really stop before the habit irreparable leaks into my own writing... :D

I'll check it out it sounds good, what genre is it is it crim,
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
I'll check it out it sounds good, what genre is it is it crim,

The Road is post-apocalyptic, or maybe SF, or mainstream, it's hard to categorize. Another good McCarthy book is Blood Meridian (mainstream, or western), and No Country for Old Men. My first experience with Cormac was The Road. It took me a while to get into it because of his style; no quotation marks, sparse punctuation, made-up words, etc. But once I settled in it was a great read. His writing style is part of his world-building, bleak and stark. I find it very effective.
 

Kevin

WF Veterans
"Bleak & stark"- careful b.d. The road was very bleak and stark. It was really good but not light. I mean, there was no light, except the fire inside. Made me cry.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
The Road is post-apocalyptic, or maybe SF, or mainstream, it's hard to categorize. Another good McCarthy book is Blood Meridian (mainstream, or western), and No Country for Old Men. My first experience with Cormac was The Road. It took me a while to get into it because of his style; no quotation marks, sparse punctuation, made-up words, etc. But once I settled in it was a great read. His writing style is part of his world-building, bleak and stark. I find it very effective.

That does actually sound pretty good. I googled it too. Straight to the TBR pile :)
 

Jack of all trades

Senior Member
Why would you want to deliberately write long sentences? Or short ones? For me, the sentence length is less important than the story. During fast paced sections the sentences are naturally shorter, because I'm thinking more rapidly.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
HIs there a way of writing a super long sentence, which is not burdensome to read, and which is coherent and clear?.

Some sentences require the reader to figure out the grammar.
Thecountry, which my father whom I, the author of this sentence, whichis complicated to read, an important activity, love was born in is atwar.
That's just a word salad if you don't see the grammar. (And I made that really hard.)

Long sentences are more difficult to grammatically decode. (I think the ambiguities multiply.) So the grammar of long sentences can be difficult to read. Hawthorne is my example. If you want to go that route, the grammatical structure has to be obvious. (Rushdie's 277-word sentence was my example of that.)

A string of meaningful phrases can be understood without decoding the underlying grammar. So that's (roughly) the second style for long sentences. Kyle gave an example; Blackstone gave an example from Kerouac. I don't know if that Kerouac sentence is grammatically correct; I don't want to even think about it; and the issue is irrelevant -- no one reads it grammatically, it's read as a string of phrases.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top