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  1. realIK17

    realIK17 New Member

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    Is it wrong to have a sentence that is too long at the head/front?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by realIK17, Mar 14, 2020.

    I vaguely remember this one time in college that a professor talked about a kind of writing mistake. For example, it is wrong to have the subject or subject clause to be a lot longer than the rest of the sentence. I tried to search the internet, but Google just showed me stuff like "avoid complex and confusing sentences" or "incomplete clauses and run-ons." Am I remembering things right or am I dreaming about this writing rule? Thx.

    Best regards,
    Steve
     
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  2. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I've never heard that one before. Have you got an example? I'm not quite picturing it.
     
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  3. More

    More Active Member

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    It is considered a good idea to make sentences emphatic , not to wordy. Sentences sould be short and balenced in order to make them pleasing . This is according to my book , How to write , published in 1937
     
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  4. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Iain M Banks is fond of extremely long sentences, but I think he
    may be in the minority that can pull off 50-100 word sentences. :p

    I am known to get a little to long with my own, but not nearly to
    that scale. :)

    I think it depends on style and how much you need to pack into
    a given sentence to convey something.
     
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  5. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This is a thing I encounter in translation work all the time, especially legal work. The Spanish-language original will lean into remnant acknowledgement of Latin structures and deploy an utterly massive ablative absolute clause before we ever get to even the grammatical subject, let alone the predicate that actually tells us the action of the subject.

    Even when you read it just in your head, it leaves you breathless, and not in a good way.

    Try to take note of the moment when you start to feel anxious reading this sentence:

    The motion having been filed this day, March 15, 2020, and in accordance with the treaty in place between the Grand Assemblage of the United States of America and its counterpart in the Most Honorable Republic of Colombia, and having been seen and dispatched by the corresponding juridical offices and their appointees possessing the necessary legal competencies for these matters and to these ends within this session, the defendant will now rise and the court will read the charges into the record.

    I just pulled that out of my wazoo, but it's not even close to the usual monstrous preamble that comes before the main clause of the sentence in these kinds of documents. Sometimes it becomes so preposterously huge that the main clause never even comes! The writer lost his or her way at some point and just hacked their way out of the jungle rather than try to re-find the path, which is a bigger deal than it sounds because, for the most part, attorneys and magistrates are usually quite gifted writers. It's a necessary skill in their field.

    I think the admonishment to which you refer may be something similar, but the times when the subject or subject phrase would be so unwieldy as to draw notice feels like a rare event.

    The entire book club - with the exception of Donna, who ghosted us for whatever reason - myself and even my two dogs, Tumblr and Reddit, were at a loss to explain David's behavior.

    That's a sentence that desperately wants to be restructured to just: We were at a loss to explain David's behavior.

    All the rest of the subjects in question can be deployed in subsequent sentences once we know why we're engaging all these subjects. Making us wait that long, as in the original, invokes that moment of anxiety.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2020
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  6. realIK17

    realIK17 New Member

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    Yes. Your second example is spot-on. I was talking to this German and said that his sentences are too "top-heavy." He didn't believe that there was such a writing rule. I am glad that someone agrees with me .
     
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  7. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    Germans are also fond of smashing too many words together into those monstrouscompoundwords. Linguistically they're complete barbarians! (Don't tell @Friedrich Kugelschreiber I said that... )
     
  8. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    Lol, I'm not German. It's just a pen name :-D

    Edit: But to this discussion add, I thereon with you agree. The wordstrings of the German language very often confusing are.

    It just doesn't sound the same in English, does it? :-D
     
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2020
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  9. Aaron Smith

    Aaron Smith Banned Contributor

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    One of the greatest rulers of Prussia, Frederick William, criticized the German language for having something like "way too long sentences that do not make any sense until the main verb is revealed at the very end of the sentence. (paraphrased).
     
  10. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor Contest Winner 2022

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    There are certain paired elements in a sentence that want to be very near one another. The subject and the verb are the most necessary of those pairs. When you move them too far apart, it's almost like holding your breath in the subject phrase and finally gasping for air on the action. (Though you might use that effect deliberately . . .)

    [Edit: I had a stupidly long response here, like usual, but slimmed it down! haha]
     
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  11. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I like your long responses. You always bring some illuminating tidbit that sends me on a knowledge-quest. ;)
     
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  12. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    I always think that sentences should be as long as they need to be and no more because with sentences that are too long the reader will forget the beginning by the time they get to the end, which in turn will put them off reading your work, which of course defeats the goal of writing in the first place - unless there's a stylistic reason for a long run-on sentence.

    Short sentences. Emphasise your point. Put urgency into it. When needed, obviously.
     
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  13. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Hard to answer without seeing the sentence. I've seen a lot of super long sentences that work fine, they're complex but fine. There's a beauty in the Bible - Ephesians 1:3-14 and it's like 244 words long and it's pulled together by the starting point - in Christ - and then the repeated use of in him after each benefit/clause, reinforcing that they come from being in him (not a action you perform, but a benefit you receive.) And this pattern helps balance everything.

    For me the tricky part of a long sentence is don't loose track of the subject or the point and most important write it so that it's emphasizing the right thing. I recall reading someone's WIP about a month ago and they had this long rambley description about clothes and at the end tacked on a mention about a funeral and I was like whoa, wait a minute, you're going to talk about sock colors and the death of a grandmother in the same sentence, it's making your mc look major callous. Sometimes things deserved to be kept separate.
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2020
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  14. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    My personal feeling is that starting sentences should be on the short side. Well, maybe not "Call me Ishmael" short, but short enough to get that first jolt in. Remember that the reader is starting in cold and is immediately looking for reference points. If that first sentence doesn't create a spark, the second sentence may never get the chance to.

    Make it easier; most readers need all the help they can get.
     
  15. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

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    You're talking about cadence, which is about rhythm and flow. When you read it, does it feel natural? Instincts count for a lot in these matters. Never blindly follow a rule like that. If one has no sense of rhythm in writing, it's not a bad guideline, but I suggest you go with your gut. Does it sound right? If so, do it. And don't forget to take the rest of the paragraph into consideration. You want a constant flow, even in situations where the rhythm is purposefully erratic.

    Agreed.
     
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  16. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think there is any rule. Only what works. If you've got doubts, either read the sentence (within context, including what came before in the paragraph) out loud. Even better if you can get somebody else to read it out loud for you. You instinctively know where you meant for the reader to pause or take a breath, but another person won't. They will just read what's there.

    It's one of those things I've discovered at our face to face writers' group. We sometimes exchange and read each other's work out loud. Amazing how fast the flaws show up, as well as what is usually a fairly simple solution.
     
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  17. WilliamJF

    WilliamJF New Member

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    A long sentence as a starting sentence would probably be very unattractive in a story, unless it's long for a reason. You can put long sentences in the latter sections of the story or writing, but starting with a long sentence might turn away readers.

    I don't know much about long subjects in sentences though. Subjects in a sentence should be alright at any length. But again, I've read some stories where some subjects have had long names. Constantly reading those names can be a bit tiring, after a while. Whenever I have a character with a long name in my work, I usually give him a nickname that other characters and the narrator can call him.
     
  18. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer Contest Winner 2023

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    What you say about pattern having a balancing effect is spot on. The preamble of the US Constitution is a legal document like the @Wreybies gives as an example, and like it, the main clause comes at the end. But the dependent clauses before it are short, punchy, and keep to the same form.

    Oh, yes, and the subject, "We the people," comes first.
     

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