1. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Problems with long sentences

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by stubeard, Sep 21, 2010.

    This is something I've recently noticed. I don't know whether it's because of the way I'm feeling right now or it's a serious problem, but I've recently found myself increasingly annoyed at my penchant for long sentences. What usually happens is I write and I write and I write, and then when I look back at my work I find it's too snappy. The sentences are too short and there's often little flow to my writing. So then I go over it and try to lengthen the sentences. What happens then, though, is that I seem to put too many conjunctions in, especially the words but or before. A quick search shows that up to 1.3% of my writing is the word but!

    e.g. "He pulled his jacket tighter before racing up the hill."

    "He laughed inside at Harry’s fears, although a cold sweat was beginning to gather on his forehead. He wiped it away but he did slow his pace, making sure of his steps and constantly looking out for guards. His legs ached to go faster, as the feeling of needing the toilet returned, but he would not run, knowing that just one sound could spell the end for him and his friends."

    This isn't so much a request for advice (i.e. I know the technicalities of conjunction use, and if I didn't I probably wouldn't have recognised it as such). It's more a call for empathy. Does anyone else have a tendency to put too many conjunctions in? Is the use of 1 but every 100 words (so basically 1 every short paragraph) too much?
     
  2. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    Any structure repetition is annoying. I've had similar problems several times and my solution is always the same: artificially change the structure to any other (maybe even a wrong one), leave it for future correction and keep writing.
     
  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I used to before I found my pace and writing style. My first draft is littered with them, personally I like reading long sentences.

    However I realised because mine was first person it had to come out - I don't think in ifs ands buts etc. I can now go pages without ever using a single conjunction, but I tend to edit them out afterwards rather than write without them.

    EDIT for a fantastic story with long sentences try Sunset Song. Grassic Gibbon will often only put a fullstop at the end of the paragraph - it does add to the story in my opinion and is worth perservering with. I have a character I am contemplating using no punctuation in her dialogue to indicate it is confusing and she never takes a breather haven't done it yet.

    Do long sentences suit your style best?
     
  4. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I do tend to use them and then edit them out... They just make the flow of a sentence work when I'm writing fast and without looking back... Only later can I go through and shorten it all down.
     
  5. Horizon Noise
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    Horizon Noise Member

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    I noticed a lot of my earlier writing included the word 'but'. This told me that (a) I didn't really know what I was saying and (b) I needed to think up other structures to replace the word. I rarely use it now apart from in forum posts and note writing, and even then hopefully not that often. As for long sentences, I recently read a book (the hideous 'The Northern Clemency' I think it was) which had a sentence of about 700 words. I think it was meant to impress me. It didn't.
     
  6. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    When you try and write a sentence for too long you end up quite desperate to keep dragging it out... I can't comfortably get over 200 words, and those are only when I'm not really thinking, or writing for a serious purpose. I wrote a sentence of 999 words for a writing exercise in class (it was timed rather than word count, but I am impressed at my final count :p), but there were plenty of places where it would have stopped naturally if I hadn't forced it.

    Anyway, what I learned from that is that sentences want to stop and you should do everything you can to let them. :p
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Give some love to the simple declarative sentence.

    There is a tendency to associate lengthy, rambling sentences with literary sophistication. A sentence should be only as long as necessary to adequately convey a single thought or idea or action.

    Before joining two sentences, ask yourself why they need to be joined. Don't just join them because you think your word to sentence ratio is too low. Join then only because they are naturally coupled. Be careful about joining a series of sequential actions into a single sentence, although you may occasionally need to do so to make one action flow into another. It should be a rare occurrence, not a standard mode of writing.

    A sentence is not an entire story. A sentence is not an entire scene. Don't try to force it to take on the role of a paragraph.
     
  8. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    When such occasion arise I tend to use only conjunctions. What are the other ways of joining "a series of sequential actions" without the conjunctions?
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Put them in separate, sequential sentences. They will be less tightly coupled to one another, but that is nearly always a good thing. Short, sequential sentence imply a rapid progression anyway. Joining with conjunctions actually gives the impression o a slower pace.
     
  10. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Let's say I want a slow pace. I use so many conjunctions that my writing looks terrible. In such situations how do I avoid conjunctions, at the same time maintaining a slow pace by joining sequential actions. Should I simply separate the actions with commas, semicolons.... ?

    Please don't mind Cog. It's just that I struggle with this a lot and I want to know if there are any ways to overcome this problem.
     
  11. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    I sometimes feel uncomfortable with sentences over 60 words! :p

    Maybe my sentences are not too long. I am currently re-writing the first few sections of my latest work, though, and it's definitely liberating to remember that there's nothing inherently wrong with short sentences. I guess I tend to get very black and white about things like this - either doing something a lot, or not at all. Finding the balance is the Holy Grail.

    I'm feeling much better about what I'm doing though - thanks to this place!
     
  12. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bear in mind that the length of the sentence can help to set pace for a scene/chapter/novel. Those short, choppy sentences you were so intent to eliminate would tend to set a fast pace.

    "David. Wait. Where are you? I can't hear you. I'm lost." The short sentences lend a feel of tension or panic or fear just by virtue of their being short and choppy. On the other hand, longer sentences, likewise, can set a mood - one of calm, usually, by slowing the pace overall.

    "The night was cool, a full moon cast everything in moody shadows and a breeze out of the north seemed to promise snow before morning. David was nowhere to be seen so I started out on my own. I had a pretty good idea where he might be and I was in no mood to play cat and mouse games. I'd find him. I had the time."

    In the second example, you can even see the slight shift of pacing from the languid beginning to the start of, perhaps, a new pursuit as well as a change of pace.

    Then, too, what is the purpose of your conjunctions?
    In the above example, you note he wiped 'it' away 'but' slowed his pace. What, exactly is the correlation between the two actions? There is none, really, and so, using a conjunction to join the two concepts fails. Be sure you understand why you are joining two sentences or thoughts and not just do it to make a sentence longer. That should never be the objective!


    There is a place in writing for both the shorter sentence structure and the longer compound sentences. You already recognize where your problem areas are so just take your time, break them down, then put them back together again in a way that feels right - not too tight, not too sprawling.
     
  13. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Over-long sentences used to be my biggest problem when I was writing. :p I've trained myself down now, but sometimes when I show my writing to a certain friend who was there with me through the hard times (*sniff*) she will do a word count on this or that, and be, "Um, Melly... this is over 100 words long, you know?" :p
     
  14. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Thanks. Your post makes a lot of sense. In reference to the bit above - my original intention was to show that, despite the fact he wiped the sweat away, suggesting he didn't much care for the danger, he still slowed his pace, showing that he did have some concern. That bit's gone now though so no worries about giving it any more attention. I see your point though.
     
  15. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    listen to cog... he's right, as usual...

    and delete 'as' from your vocabulary, if you use it for anything that comes close to meaning 'while' or 'at the same time as'!
     
  16. Thanshin
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    Thanshin Active Member

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    There is a place in writing for both the shorter sentence structure and the longer compound sentences.[/QUOTE]

    I think the reason for telling people to use a faster rhythm so often is that using one too slow for the situation is a far more common mistake.

    As many writing rules, it is to be applied until one understands when not to.
     

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