1. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Repetitive Use of "Choppy" Sentences

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Thornesque, Apr 7, 2013.

    I'm writing a short story as part of an assignment for my Comp class. I've got the premise all worked out and know what I'm writing. So let me sum this up (hopefully on the parts you absolutely need to know for me to ask what I want here):

    A man his having hallucinations that there's someone/-thing following him. He's running through the woods, trying to get away. I want to portray scattered, panicked thoughts, and what I've ended up with is a series of short sentences and single-word statements. This is a split-perspective story, so it's not something that the reader is going to put up with constantly; my other character is looking for the character that's hallucinating, and his thoughts are obviously much calmer. So the sentences here have my average variance from medium to somewhat-long sentences. But I wanted an opinion from you all:

    Do short, clipped sentences portray a panicked, urgent tone to the story when used so frequently, or are they jut a hindrance to the reader, and, overall, confusing?

    A quick sample:

    Thanks in advance to anyone who helps.
     
  2. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    They certainly quicken the pace and add to the urgency of the atmosphere, but it might be better if you alternate between short and longer sentences.
    Example:

    Or you could change to present tense, like a memory.

    Just my humble opinion
     
  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    The short sentences are good but they can also be distracting - as certain words can inadvertantly refer to the wrong things. I'm guilty of this too. But - sounds like it's refering to the walls. Would also sounds like a possibility not a definite - unlike Swoop in. Devour me - which are definites. Xatron gives some good
    examples of mixing it up. Long with short - but most important keeping your ideas clear.
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Short sentences slow down the pace because the reader knows to pause when there's a period. It's better to use a long sentence when you want to show a sense of urgency. Below is an excerpt from Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses. Hopefully it illustrates what I'm trying to say.

     
  5. Bee Kay
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    Bee Kay Member

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    Agreeing with thirdwind. Lengthy sentences give an impression of needing to stop for air. They make the mind race.
     
  6. Jacco
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    Jacco Member

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    While agreeing with the others replied, I also want to add that you can vary the "sound" of your sentences by your word choice. If you are normally very formal in your narration, it could help to use shorter variations of what you are trying to say. So that way you get sentence variation without slowing down the pace of the action.

    Also, keeping thoughts to a minimum and simply focusing on what is going on physically can help as well. In stressful or violent situation, people don't actually "think" like normal. You find yourself just reacting or thinking in reactionary terms. So by focusing on the physical action instead of internal narration, you can give that feeling of being rushed and panicked.
     
  7. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    It reads a little too flowery and lengthy to me (that particular example). Sometimes I would have to stop reading mid-sentence and re-read from the beginning of it because it is so long i could have missed something.

    Then again, it is just my humble opinion.
     
  8. Thornesque
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    Thornesque Contributing Member

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    Well, personally, I have an issue with over-long sentences. This one, in particular, seems far too lengthy to me, and took multiple re-reads just to get the meaning. Nor did I really get any sense of urgency about it at all. It didn't even seem like there was anything in the words themselves that implied urgency. It just came across as him watching a train go by, at least in my reading of it. Perhaps I simply misinterpreted.

    Thank you, all, for your advice. I'm still working on how to do this, so sorry if I haven't been replying individually. I just can't seem to get it to work right.
     
  9. Bee Kay
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    Bee Kay Member

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    While that particular example was, imo, kind of overkill, I definitely agree with the general idea, which is what was most important.
     
  10. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    It might have been almost interesting if it was indeed a train going by - definately a book to miss for me - and I like the author...
     
  11. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I love that McCarthy sentence. It was discussed in another thread a while back, and I wanted to find that thread in connection with another discussion we were having around here somewhere, and I couldn't remember enough of it to make the search engine find it.

    For me, that sentence works perfectly. I really get the sense of the speed of the train as it rushes by. McCarthy controls the sentence well, ensuring that it ends with "... till it was gone." That final phrase feels like the train has passed, and the sentences then return to normal length.

    I love writing like this. It emphasizes that language can be used for more than just conveying basic information. It can also be used to manipulate pace, energy, and mood; ideally, the writer should be able to control the reader's heart rate using little more than prose rhythms and punctuation. Great writers can use prose for a dazzling array of effects.
     

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