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  1. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    The Art of Run-On Sentences

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by John Calligan, Mar 24, 2019.

    I've been experimenting with run-on sentences, especially when delivering exposition from a desperate or excited POV character.

    I've found that the first drafts of these sentences are usually awful. The last one I wrote had three variations of "make" in it. The problem is that I tend to capture the feeling of them by writing them quickly when I get the emotion of the scene, but when I look back, it's usually pretty sloppy.

    Anyone else use run-on sentences in this way? How did you get good? Any tips?
     
  2. The Piper

    The Piper Contributor Contributor

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    I use a lot of these, and I wouldn't say I'm particularly good at them, but I find it's the best way of doing certain scenes - I write horror, and the paranormal stuff, so you've got darkness and panic and running and more panic and it's an easy way, for me at least, to get a little action into the horror. I find that the best way to construct them is to do the same as you would for any writing - write it, and don't stop writing it, and then replace the bad bits with good bits when it comes to editing. I know this is ridiculously simplistic but it's easy to write and write and write this kind of passage and get really into it - but it's not going to be perfect. So when you're free of that manic "I'm really in this story right now" phase and it comes to the editing and you're looking at it with a calmer eye and a more removed mindset, of course you'll see problems, but that's when you fix them - just the same as you would any other kind of writing.
     
  3. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    I need an example.

    It should be ok in dialogue if that's how the character talks. Not so good for narration.

    But I need an example to know what you mean.
     
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  4. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I'll try to find one that's not in something I'm actually using.
     
  5. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Nice run-on.
     
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  6. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    @EBohio


    He turned the corner too fast, and the tires slipped, and he gasped as the driver's side tires picked up, and he knew he was in trouble.


    I just made that up, to show the form. It's not from anything.

    Edit: "and he knew he was in trouble" is the kind of telling summary sentence that I end up cutting to pull like 10k words out of a novel.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2019
  7. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I’ve always been faintly unclear on the definition of a run-on sentence. Sometimes it seems to refer to multiple sentences fused together in a way that’s grammatically incorrect, but sometimes it’s applied to those that are not actually incorrect.

    I have what I might call my “run on sentence voice”, or my “breathless toddler voice” but it’s always grammatically correct. I think I’d recommend the correctness. (I’m not saying that your example is incorrect.)

    Example:

    And finally the mouse ran to the kibble bowl and scrabbled up its outside and down its inside and snatched the piece of kibble and tried to scrabble back up the inside and slid down and tried again and then he saw the cat above him and he squeaked and tried to hide under the piece of kibble.
     
  8. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    I guess I don't know what a run-on is because that just describes the action. I might reword it, make it 2 sentences. Get rid of some commas.
     
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  9. Cave Troll

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

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    Use, yes. Well, well no.
    Though I don't write frantic run-ons
    like you are speaking of, but instead
    favor shorter blunt sentences.

    ( I like my commas, but not that many for a single sentence.) :p
     
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  10. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    As an actually incorrect run-on:

    I went to the store it wasn’t good the cashier yelled at me there weren’t any apples.
     
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  11. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

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    I'm no expert, but I use run-on. I find it more effective in dialogue and internal monologue, but I'm also a fan of infusing "character" into the narration, so I get what you're doing. I would suggest breaking it up some. Conveying frantic thought involves more than disregarding period placement. "Clause, and clause, and clause" can read as more monotonous than frantic. Use run-ons in conjunction with short, choppy sentences. Fragments even. Think in bursts. Destroy your normal rhythm. Vary your cadence and structure, and to hell with following the rules, because what good could they possibly do you now? This is desperate. This is life or death, and we don't care what came before or why this is happening to us, as long as we escape, as long as we survive this moment, right now. There is only now. There's only the monster and us and claws and teeth and fragile flesh and that rancid, awful breath. It's on our neck. We're going to fucking die.

    Or something.
     
  12. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    I look at run-on sentences as a dog looking at throw-up; there has got to be some good bits in there.
    Though there seldom is. As most of it is telling and I have to rewrite the whole thing to show.
    When I have a bit of excitement going I try to use short panic style sentences. Works for me.
     
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  13. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    I'm pretty sure you can construct a sentence to be run-on like without actually being grammatically wrong. The problem with actual run-ons is that they are often not clear.
     
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  14. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

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    That's twice that "telling" has been mentioned in this thread in conjunction with run-on sentences. Do you think they lend themselves more to telling than other sentence structures do? Why would that be? Or is the reverse true, and you find you end up with run-ons when telling?
     
  15. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Telling is usually shorter than showing, like: "I left the airport and drove home," could be a chapter if I wanted to show it. So when you are going for speed, you might slip into a faster kind of prose.
     
  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I don't accept that "telling" can be diagnosed in sentence structure. To me, showing/telling, or demonstrating/explaining, depends as much on the purpose as the structure of the words.

    For example:

    Tuesday, John didn't wear a tie.

    may look, without context, like telling. But it may be showing the current state of John's morale.

    A run-on sentence is quite likely to show mood, even if it's telling some specific facts.
     
  17. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    The original example is showing.
    He turned the corner too fast, and the tires slipped, and he gasped as the driver's side tires picked up, and he knew he was in trouble.

    I just don't see leaving it that way. It can be made more tidy.
     
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  18. Thundair

    Thundair Contributor Contributor

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    Sorry, I wasn’t speaking in a broad scope, when I mentioned telling. I was saying that my run-on sentences are telling and I go back and fix them. Sometimes breaking the sentence up into a shorter and more to the point structure.
     
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  19. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I wouldn't really classify that example as showing, or at least not pure showing... "he knew he was in trouble", for example, feels like "telling" to me, as does "too fast", really, and maybe even "as the driver's side tires picked up", although that might be a question of POV as much as anything. (Although I agree with @ChickenFreak that a sentence can be "telling" from one perspective, "showing" from another.)
     
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  20. Rzero

    Rzero Reluctant voice of his generation Contributor

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    Um... You quoted me. Was that meant to answer this?:
    To clarify, I know the difference between showing and telling. I don't know what either would have to do with run-on sentences though.
    I can see someone having this tendency, but that would make it more of a personal pitfall, much like my own tendency to make semi-contradictory observations peppered with over-usage of "still," "although" and "either way." Other writers don't have to watch out for that.

    ETA:
    Oops. I missed this. See, that makes sense.
     
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  21. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I'm not striving for run-on sentences is the best thing. I'll take a fragment over a run-on any day. That being said, I think prose tend to sparkle a bit more when the writer is constantly changing up sentence length and structure. A combination of both long and short sentences tend to read cleaner and livelier.

     
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  22. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Homer woke up and his knees and his back hurt and there was a booger flopping around his nose that made him sneeze twice and sneeze again but he knocked over his water while reaching for the tissues making the bed wet so he rolled over and his dog barked from under the covers and then scratched Homer's chest when he tried to escape and then the phone rang and it was work but he was off so he didn't answer the phone and then he went downstairs and made coffee but there was no cream because his wife drank it all so he drank it black and had a cigarette outside with a maintenance man named Bob.

    True story.
     
  23. Capslock

    Capslock Active Member

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    Like the scene from Good Will hunting. The part about the NSA interview. Look it up, it’s good. I’d love to know exactly what that style of script is called.
     
  24. BBQPorkbelly

    BBQPorkbelly Banned

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    Run-on sentences are, by definition, grammatically wrong.

    A long sentence with a lot of commas and semi-colons in the right places is not technically a run-on/grammatically incorrect sentence.

    There is a big difference between a super-duper long sentence and a run-on sentence. I feel that some people confuse the two and think that a run-on sentence is "a sentence that runs on and on". That is not really the meaning of run-on sentence.

    This is a short run-on sentence:

    The dog ran toward its owner it howled.
     
  25. Fallow

    Fallow Banned

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    Agreed. But I'm contrasting a run-on style with something that has incorrect grammar and probably is unclear because of that.
     
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