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Problem with Long Sentences (1 Viewer)

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lumino

Senior Member
It seems that when I lengthen a sentence, many times I add information which is not related to the former part of the sentence, which I have learned long ago not to do after I read something in a book. But I forgot what I read and am having trouble finding the same information in that book. I think the book said that each new proposition you add to a sentence should make it more clear. Can someone elaborate on this?

I wrote a whole story in which I am confident that I did not violate this rule, so I am also confident that the sentences did not lose focus.

I want the freedom to write long sentences, but I know my sentences keep losing focus when I attempt to do this, and I think it's because I keep violating this rule. Due to me violating this rule, I will begin a paragraph on one subject and end on another, because it is one long sentence which loses focus and shifts from subject to subject.

Please help. I am confident that by following this one rule I can avoid this problem, but I don't really know or understand fully what this rule is.
 

JohnCalliganWrites

Senior Member
When I want to learn something like this, I find that rules are too situational and abstract for me.

I like to copy pages from a book that is known for having the quality I want to learn.

So, my advice would be to get a recommendation for 1-3 books that are known for long but high quality sentences, and then copy a few pages from each book, word for word. Then go back and read the pages you copied and see if you understand what they were doing.
 

Aquilo

WF Veterans
Sentences can be quite easy to put together in order to show logical process:

Simple sentence: I caught the bus. (One verb: an independent clause)

Compound sentence: I caught the bus, but Jess took the car. (two verbs, two independent clauses joined by 'but' to show a contrast sentence)

Complex sentence: After the trip, I caught the bus. (one dependent clause, plus an independent clause, one adds extra detailto the other to show why he possibly took the bus.)

Compound-complex sentence: After the trip, I caught the bus, but Jess took the car. (one dependent clause, two independent clauses, joined by but).

And that's basically how you build logical meaning in a sentence. "After the trip" doesn't make sense on its own, so you add an independent clause. You can play about with it as much as you like:

After the storm, I took the bus, but Jess took the car, despite my insistence she needed the company and the extra time to calm down.

More complex doesn't make it better all of the time, though. You could add more to the above, but longer always comes at the risk of losing the reader. I think that's more common sense than any set rule: sure, make sure it makes sense and go long if it needs, just don't overburden either.
 
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BadHouses

Senior Member
I'm not sure if they're as long as you're hoping for, but I've been reading "War of the Worlds" and Wells uses some decently long sentences that are mostly easy to read. Perhaps they could be instructive in your approach.

And looking across space with instruments, and intelligences such as we have scarcely dreamed of, they see, at its nearest distance only 35,000,000 of miles sunward of them, a morning star of hope, our own warmer planet, green with vegetation and grey with water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretches of populous country and narrow, navy-crowded seas.

It's free on Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/36/36-h/36-h.htm

Also, maybe look into some of those ancient Greek philosophical dialogues for inspiration. From what I recall, those guys didn't breathe.
 

Irwin

Senior Member
Oscar Wilde was known for long sentences. Here is the second sentence in The Picture of Dorian Gray.


From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussore-silk curtains that were stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and making him think of those pallid, jade-faced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion.
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/174/174-h/174-h.htm

Some of his sentences were more than an entire page long.
 

J.T. Chris

WF Veterans
Sentences can be quite easy to put together in order to show logical process:

Simple sentence: I caught the bus. (One verb: an independent clause)

Compound sentence: I caught the bus, but Jess took the car. (two verbs, two independent clauses joined by 'but' to show a contrast sentence)

Complex sentence: After the trip, I caught the bus. (one dependent clause, plus an independent clause, one adds extra detailto the other to show why he possibly took the bus.)

Compound-complex sentence: After the trip, I caught the bus, but Jess took the car. (one dependent clause, two independent clauses, joined by but).

And that's basically how you build logical meaning in a sentence. "After the trip" doesn't make sense on its own, so you add an independent clause. You can play about with it as much as you like:

After the storm, I took the bus, but Jess took the car, despite my insistence she needed the company and the extra time to calm down.

More complex doesn't make it better all of the time, though. You could add more to the above, but longer always comes at the risk of losing the reader. I think that's more common sense than any set rule: sure, make sure it makes sense and go long if it needs, just don't overburden either.

To add to this, you want to ensure that your independent clauses make sense with your dependent clauses. For instance: "Rushing to the computer, Bob's printer broke." Who was rushing to the computer, the printer or Bob? Instead you may try something like, "As he was rushing to the computer, Bob's printer broke." Basically, if you want to focus on a rule, be specific with your modifiers.
 

seigfried007

Senior Member
It seems that when I lengthen a sentence, many times I add information which is not related to the former part of the sentence, which I have learned long ago not to do after I read something in a book. But I forgot what I read and am having trouble finding the same information in that book. I think the book said that each new proposition you add to a sentence should make it more clear. Can someone elaborate on this?

I wrote a whole story in which I am confident that I did not violate this rule, so I am also confident that the sentences did not lose focus.

I want the freedom to write long sentences, but I know my sentences keep losing focus when I attempt to do this, and I think it's because I keep violating this rule. Due to me violating this rule, I will begin a paragraph on one subject and end on another, because it is one long sentence which loses focus and shifts from subject to subject.

Please help. I am confident that by following this one rule I can avoid this problem, but I don't really know or understand fully what this rule is.

Have you considered that this anti-long-sentence rule might not be a rule at all? Or that it's totally okay for sentences to ramble and change "subjects"/have multiple subjects?

Go ahead and write long sentences. I've written some real prize-winners and humdingers in my WIP--mostly through the miracles of commas, semicolons and dashes.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
It seems that when I lengthen a sentence, many times I add information which is not related to the former part of the sentence, which I have learned long ago not to do after I read something in a book. But I forgot what I read and am having trouble finding the same information in that book. I think the book said that each new proposition you add to a sentence should make it more clear. Can someone elaborate on this?

I wrote a whole story in which I am confident that I did not violate this rule, so I am also confident that the sentences did not lose focus.

I want the freedom to write long sentences, but I know my sentences keep losing focus when I attempt to do this, and I think it's because I keep violating this rule. Due to me violating this rule, I will begin a paragraph on one subject and end on another, because it is one long sentence which loses focus and shifts from subject to subject.

Please help. I am confident that by following this one rule I can avoid this problem, but I don't really know or understand fully what this rule is.

The bolded would all be considered 'long sentences' (compound) as they contain two or more independent clauses. They also read fine. So you already know how to write both long and short sentences. If you're having trouble doing so in your creative work, it can only be because you are overthinking your creative work.

I said it before: Write naturally. Bad writing, much like anything in life, usually happens when writers try to be something they are not - try to emulate or otherwise ape a certain style or affectation. You're not talented enough to write well in a way that does not come naturally to you, because almost nobody is.

No reader gives a damn about how long sentences are. This is a self-created problem, and self-created problems only have self-created solutions.
 

Galen

WF Veterans
I'm not sure if they're as long as you're hoping for, but I've been reading "War of the Worlds" and Wells uses some decently long sentences that are mostly easy to read. Perhaps they could be instructive in your approach.



It's free on Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/36/36-h/36-h.htm

Also, maybe look into some of those ancient Greek philosophical dialogues for inspiration. From what I recall, those guys didn't breathe.

Badhouses:

I like your example. For me, it is so clear in how the words build forward adding more details as it goes on. The reader does not have to refer back to any part of the sentence.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
People who define rules for writing quite often have not got a clue and write rubbish, beware! They only sound authoritative.

Fashions change, and certainly sentences have got shorter. The longest I have come across was in a letter from Samuel Pepys reprimanding a Captain, about a page and a half, all one sentence with sub clauses, brackets, the lot.

My only proviso is that it is easy to not get the bits together that go together, check it out by analysing the elements, eg.

The car ended up in the pond because of his bad driving with just bubbles showing.

Okay, the bubbles want to come at the end because that is the final result, but it is the result of being in the pond, not bad driving.

Because of his bad driving, the car ended up in the pond with just bubbles showing.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
I think the book said that each new proposition you add to a sentence should make it more clear. Can someone elaborate on this?

I'm not sure about that, but . . . The readers stops at the period to process the sentence. You, as author, should make sure that stopping works for you and the reader is getting to the meaning you want. This is an example from my grammar book. She's in Florida and it's hot and humid.

It was the McDonald's milk shake of air.

I don't know what you make of that. What the author wants you to make of that: "You had to work to suck it in." That changed the meaning of the first sentence, right?

That's Evanovich (and one example from my grammar book). King:


But writing is a deep and wonderful thing.
You can stop and understand that. Yes. True. The point is, you would not be understanding it the way King wanted you to understand it. It continues: "It opens deep wells of memory that were previously capped." I bet you didn't see that coming. (There is no interest, in that scene, of the other ways writing might be deep and wonderful.)
 

lumino

Senior Member
The bolded would all be considered 'long sentences' (compound) as they contain two or more independent clauses. They also read fine. So you already know how to write both long and short sentences. If you're having trouble doing so in your creative work, it can only be because you are overthinking your creative work.

I said it before: Write naturally. Bad writing, much like anything in life, usually happens when writers try to be something they are not - try to emulate or otherwise ape a certain style or affectation. You're not talented enough to write well in a way that does not come naturally to you, because almost nobody is.

No reader gives a damn about how long sentences are. This is a self-created problem, and self-created problems only have self-created solutions.

Thanks for the advice, but I disagree. Imitation of other authors' writing styles is a common exercise given by teachers of rhetoric, and if such an exercise were not able to produce results, what use would it be?
 

J.T. Chris

WF Veterans
Thanks for the advice, but I disagree. Imitation of other authors' writing styles is a common exercise given by teachers of rhetoric, and if such an exercise were not able to produce results, what use would it be?

It will get you accustomed to the concept of voice until you've refined a style unique to yourself.
 

Phil Istine

WF Veterans
I'm not sure if they're as long as you're hoping for, but I've been reading "War of the Worlds" and Wells uses some decently long sentences that are mostly easy to read. Perhaps they could be instructive in your approach.



It's free on Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/36/36-h/36-h.htm

Also, maybe look into some of those ancient Greek philosophical dialogues for inspiration. From what I recall, those guys didn't breathe.

For anyone who wants a free Kindle download of War of the Worlds, (in order to inspect long sentences so we can keep on topic :) ) Amazon have it on their UK website here.

I imagine there is an equivalent download on other parts of Amazon if you live elsewhere in the world.
 

Aquilo

WF Veterans
For anyone who wants a free Kindle download of War of the Worlds, (in order to inspect long sentences so we can keep on topic :smile: ) Amazon have it on their UK website here.

I imagine there is an equivalent download on other parts of Amazon if you live elsewhere in the world.

I love Jeff Wayne's version... my lord, Richard Burton's narration....

Wells's writing is just so beautiful on the ear too: this bit with alone with sibilance, alliteration, participle repetition, and just general softly sung pace with syllable play. You can really picture and hear the serenity of the moment in his words here, where just sibilance alone gives it that calm 'shush, love,' feel:

"From the railway station came the sound of shunting trains, ringing, rumbling, softened almost into melody by the distance."

Perfection... Wells knew how to seduce a reader. No longer sentence needed.
 

NeutralGoodNormie

Senior Member
Run-on sentences are a chore, but for me paragraphs with awkward, choppy sentences are what I can’t stand. I blew $16 on Empress Theresa​; it’s wretched.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Thanks for the advice, but I disagree. Imitation of other authors' writing styles is a common exercise given by teachers of rhetoric, and if such an exercise were not able to produce results, what use would it be?

You're not talking about imitation for the purposes of learning. You're talking about imitation for the purposes of emulating a style and voice that evidently does not come easy to you.

When I was younger, I really liked the way Edgar Allan Poe writes, but when I used to try to write like him - all flowery, Gothic sentences and archaic language - the result was shit. I then went through a Hemingway phase - all terse, sparse, dry - and it was worse. I have worn many literary masks over the years. And all of them for nought.

You have to be comfortable in order to be happy, and you have to be happy in order to be productive. This isn't, in my opinion, something needing debate. Either you see it or you don't.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
Thanks for the advice, but I disagree. Imitation of other authors' writing styles is a common exercise given by teachers of rhetoric, and if such an exercise were not able to produce results, what use would it be?

I am not quite sure you mean 'Rhetoric'. That is the art of persuasion using particular techniques, have a look at 'The forest of rhetoric' , a site on Google set up by Brigham Young university (Mormons are well into persuasion).
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
It seems that when I lengthen a sentence, many times I add information which is not related to the former part of the sentence, which I have learned long ago not to do after I read something in a book. But I forgot what I read and am having trouble finding the same information in that book. I think the book said that each new proposition you add to a sentence should make it more clear. Can someone elaborate on this?

I wrote a whole story in which I am confident that I did not violate this rule, so I am also confident that the sentences did not lose focus.

I want the freedom to write long sentences, but I know my sentences keep losing focus when I attempt to do this, and I think it's because I keep violating this rule. Due to me violating this rule, I will begin a paragraph on one subject and end on another, because it is one long sentence which loses focus and shifts from subject to subject.

Please help. I am confident that by following this one rule I can avoid this problem, but I don't really know or understand fully what this rule is.

As I've said before, while I too enjoy a long sentence, in order to achieve that I don't just add words to the end; I add detail, metaphor, voice, tone, etc. to many parts of it. That helps me keep the sentence to the point while fleshing it out considerably. Here's an example, from my latest WIP:

Tiny crystals formed into piles atop branches and the jagged tops of stone walls that surrounded the frozen courtyard, spinning into miniature wisps whenever an infrequent night gust caught them, to lay membranes of gossamer on the heads of two shadows.

I mean, effectively here I am saying "Snow fell". But what's so damn good about "snow fell"? Nothing. It's tell-ish, it's boring, it's beige, it's blah, it's amateurish, it's oversimplistic and it's crap. I like to think that by extending the detail to include the stuff the snow falls on to, I also worldbuild; suddenly there's a wall, branches, a frozen courtyard, all connected, all within the context of a simple act of weather. In doing so, I can choose words to set pace and thus the reader's emotion, namely tentative and cautious. And I also introduce - still via the mechanism of snow fell - two characters. So: you don't have to add more to the sentence, you can simply make the parts of the sentence you do have work harder.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I mean, effectively here I am saying "Snow fell". But what's so damn good about "snow fell"? Nothing. It's tell-ish, it's boring, it's beige, it's blah, it's amateurish, it's oversimplistic and it's crap. I like to think that by extending the detail to include the stuff the snow falls on to, I also worldbuild; suddenly there's a wall, branches, a frozen courtyard, all connected, all within the context of a simple act of weather. In doing so, I can choose words to set pace and thus the reader's emotion, namely tentative and cautious. And I also introduce - still via the mechanism of snow fell - two characters. So: you don't have to add more to the sentence, you can simply make the parts of the sentence you do have work harder.

Your sentence is good because, to me, it strikes the balance. But I can only say that if I am regarding it as a stand-alone, which of course is easy to do. It could be magnificent in the right context... it could also be tedious overwrite if in the story in which it takes place the snow is but an irrelevant detail. If I was barraged by a large quantity of such sentences, that could quickly become wearisome. So the context and saturation of usage 100% matters to all this stuff.

I think if the context is one in which the snow, or whatever the subject matter taking up these 'long' sentences is, is not of key interest to the story (as opposed to key interest of the over-zealous writer) the idea of expending extraneous sentences even if they are good sentences well written is something I think comes with a big-letter health warning. This is something I am slowly coming to grips with myself.

Snow around it lay, fat and smothering. Monstrous drifts of the stuff piled high against a porch that struggled to stay afloat.


^ From my own WIP. In this scene a small boy is being driven to a strange house on Christmas Eve. In this scene the snow is intended as a metaphor for grief. Needless to say, in the first draft I wrote now several years back, there was some major ham going on. It was hammy as hell, entire paragraphs waxing lyrical about this mystical, whimsical snow that was so fascinating. Cutting it back, reducing the sentence length, and honing in on the relevant rather than the reverent really helped to create, in my opinion, a more readable piece.

The simple fact I think must be held in mind is that readers get bored incredibly easily. A lot of people are naturally lazy when it comes to processing words. I think that's a big reason why long, thick sentences tend to be avoided in favor of numerous shorter ones that, combined, amount to the same idea. It's the difference between having to carve up a whole turkey and chowing down on a boxful of McNuggets.
 
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