1. DragonGrim
    Offline

    DragonGrim Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2008
    Messages:
    818
    Likes Received:
    19
    Location:
    Iowa

    Sentence length and content.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by DragonGrim, Aug 25, 2009.

    I found myself disagreeing with someone, and were wondering what others thought. Long sentences are spotted usually in the written language, unless you encounter the and-then-and-then-and-then conversationalist. Imo, reading aloud is not the best way to find out if a sentence works. What do you think? Here’s an example:


    A hungry black cat jumped from the roof and landed on a spring that sent her skyward and up over a speeding car, and all the while I just watched in amazement, especially as the cat hit the ground running.

    Here’s a 40 word sentence. I speaker would probably not use so many words. But if a writer wants to slow the pace, longer sentences would do the job. In an action scene, it could be written:

    The cat jumped off the roof. She landed on a spring that sent her skyward. And up over a speeding car. All the while I just watched in amazement. The cat hit the ground running.
     
  2. jwatson
    Offline

    jwatson Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2009
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    canada
    A hungry black cat jumped from the roof, landing on a spring that sent her skyward over a speeding car. All the while, I watched in amazement, especially when the cat hit the ground. < --- That's how I would like it. I don't really understand the "running" at the end. "skyward up" <--- what's the point of the "up" ? can it go skyward down? :p
    I know you probably just threw this together on the spur of the moment so this is just me being picky.
    I make use of commas when I can in a sentence or two of action(s). Your second example seemed choppy and was difficult to read...

    "And up over a speeding car." <--- maybe this is just me, but I don't consider this a sentence. This is some kind of clause. ( I forget which. It's the one that depends on another clause to form a sentence. Oh, right, a dependent clause I think...)
    Hope this helps :)
     
  3. marina
    Offline

    marina Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 7, 2008
    Messages:
    1,280
    Likes Received:
    55
    Location:
    Seattle
    I've seen long sentences both in the narrative and the dialogue, but more so in the narrative sections.

    I do tend to read back some dialogue if I'm concerned about the wording or if it sounds right. As for the narrative sections, sometimes I'll read it aloud as well. I like a conversational tone for my narrative parts, though, esp. since I usually write in first person.

    First, that long sentence reads awkward and almost like a run-on. Also, did you mean to say that to slow the pace SHORTER sentences would do the job? I'd agree w/that. A longer sentence keeps the action in flight, so to speak. BTW, I'd edit that first sentence:

    A hungry black cat jumped from the roof and landed on a spring that sent her skyward and up over a speeding car, and. allAll the while I just watched in amazement, especially as the cat hit the ground running.

    The second sentence reads awkward too. It's pretty choppy, and even though it's not dialogue, it should read fluidly in the reader's mind.
     
  4. bluebell80
    Offline

    bluebell80 Contributing Member

    Joined:
    May 20, 2009
    Messages:
    636
    Likes Received:
    18
    Location:
    Vermont
    Here is an example of a 43 word sentence from the book Autumn by David Moody (I'm in the middle of reading it)
    It's long, but smooth and very readable. The two sentence before it in the paragraph were only 7 words and 12 words. So it was short, short, long. The paragraph before was a 29 word sentence, followed by a 9 word, then a 3 word sentence, long, short, short.

    There has to be a flow between the sentences and paragraphs. Nothing but a string of long sentences would leave the reader breathless by the end of the page. A page full of short sentences tends to be too Dick and Jane. So a mixture of the two keeps things flowing properly.

    I'm sorry to say that your examples aren't so hot. The first one is a really long run on sentence that is awkward to read, whether outloud or in your head. The second example of breaking it down, leaves you with a fragment sentence and stuff that really doesn't make sense.
     
  5. thirdwind
    Offline

    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2008
    Messages:
    7,351
    Likes Received:
    2,891
    Location:
    Boston
    A quick search gave me a 958 word sentence from Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Of course, I wouldn't ever dare to attempt something like that. I like to stick to small or medium-sized sentences just because they are easiest to write and also the easiest to read.
     
  6. architectus
    Offline

    architectus Banned

    Joined:
    Aug 19, 2008
    Messages:
    1,796
    Likes Received:
    14
    Location:
    Ca
    The first example is a sprawling sentence. These are sentences that use a lot of conjunctions to connect ideas. Reading aloud could help. The sure way is to do an editing pass for conjunctions.



    With a sentence like this, after I see too many conjunctions, I break it down and think of what is most important and least important.

    A hungry black cat jumped from the roof. It landed on a spring. It sailed skyward over a speeding car. I watched in amazement. The cat cleared the car. It landed on the other side, never breaking its stride.

    As you can see, there are a lot of pieces to this sentence. The best way to combine so many ideas is through subordination.

    It would probably be best to make this two sentences, but I think it could be done with one.

    Wide eyed, I watched as a black cat leaped from the roof of the auto shop, pounced on a spring, sailed skyward over a speeding four-door coupe, cleared the length of it, and landed on the street, never breaking stride.

    After a black cat leaped from the roof, it pounced on a spring and soared skyward over the length of a speeding Honda, all which I watched in amazement, even after it landed on the street, never breaking stride.

    I don't like the second one, so I would break it up, if her watching had to be said in the middle.

    After a black cat leaped from the roof, it pounced on a spring and soared skyward over the length of a speeding four-door coupe. I stared with mouth open and eyes wide as the feline cleared the car, landing on the street, never breaking stride.

    Breaking up the action between when the cat is in the air and before it lands, ruins the imagery IMO.

    Of course this scene could be micromanaged and extended.

    The black cat darted across the roof of the auto shop and leaped off the edge, showing no fear as it soared down, its body stretched out like a flying squirrel. Wide eyed, I watched, wishing I had such confidence. If only I could take such risks with Jeremy. Then it pounced on a spring and soared skyward over a speeding four-door coupe. The man driving paid no attention to the super cat that flew over his car, clearing the trunk, landing on the street, never breaking stride. It dodged a truck before disappearing into an alleyway.

    Sorry for the long post.
     
  7. Atari
    Offline

    Atari Active Member

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2009
    Messages:
    455
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    Louisiana

    I am afraid that I do not understand your meaning, since you set up a laughable straw-man in the second example, and then knocked it down with expected ease.

    The second example has one fragment, and the rest are pointlessly broken up.
    Furthermore, who is to say that the entire sentence is even well-written in the first place?

    I find the phrase 'all the while' to be poorly used in this sentence. (Either one)

    As I have said on other threads, it is all situational, and depends upon the situation, and cannot be ascertained until the situation is. . . set.

    Situation.


    Edit:
    In my opinion: Not quite.

    I was at first convinced that it was correct, until I realized that one mistake.


    Here is my correction:
    NOW it is a smooth sentence, and also not a run-on.
     
  8. Baseloaf
    Offline

    Baseloaf New Member

    Joined:
    Aug 15, 2009
    Messages:
    7
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Sweden
    I have a bad habit of making too many of my sentences two-claused. Like someone above said, a good mix of longer and shorter sentences is usually the best. It depends a little on what you´re describing. Generally I prefer shorter sentences and paragraphs, as they give a more forceful, in-your-face sensation.
     

Share This Page