1. waitingforzion

    waitingforzion Senior Member

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    When do you end a sentence, and how do you lengthen one properly.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by waitingforzion, Dec 7, 2017.

    I am confused about when you should end a sentence. I also want to know how you can write a long one that is acceptable. I have seen some long sentences in works that are praised, and I like long sentences. But when I posted a long sentence in my other thread, it was criticized because the thoughts did not flow. So my question is, how do I know when I should end a sentence and begin a new one? And how can I write a really long sentence without meriting criticism?
     
  2. Robert Musil

    Robert Musil Contributor Contributor

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    Do you know how to diagram sentences, by any chance? English sentences only have so many forms they can fit into. Subject-verb, subject-verb-object, subject-predicate nominative or predicate adjective etc. You can make a sentence as long as you like (provided it's not so long the reader forgets the beginning of it by the end), and if you're able to diagram it along these lines you'll probably be okay.

    To take your apologetics opening as an example, I'd say the problem was that it wasn't clear what the verb of the sentence was. I mean you had several verbs which were all not really related to each other.
     
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  3. Robert Musil

    Robert Musil Contributor Contributor

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  4. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Wrting is never clean. :) Contributor

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    You like long sentences? There is a posting in the Short Stories that is a 1000 word sentence. :p
    Though that is a tad too long for me.
    Ian M Banks seems quite fond of inordinately long sentences, give him a read.
     
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  5. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    The length of a sentence depends on many factors. The target audience, the topic, the genre, the desired pace at that point in time, the meaning you want to convey... So there is no definitive answer of when you should end a sentence. I suppose a general rule of thumb is that each sentence should aim to convey one idea, or a set of related ideas joined with conjunctions to express the nature of their relationships to each other. If you have finished conveying that/those idea(s), then move on to the next sentence. As for how to “write really long sentences”, why would you want to? If you have a complex idea which can be expressed using a single sentence then fine; if it can be made clearer by splitting it up into more than one sentence, then that might be better. But I can see no reason to set out to write sentences as long as possible. I imagine that would have the effect of deteriorating the intelligibility of the writing.
     
  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    @waitingforzion , you say that you want to emulate the King James Bible. The King James Bible has shorter sentences than you're using. So are you saying that the King James Bible isn't good enough?

    Edited to add: Let's look at the beginning of John:

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
    The same was in the beginning with God.
    All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
    In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
    And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.


    That's five sentences. Let's assume that long sentences are better, and combine all five sentences into one. Is the below a much, much better version?

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, who was in the beginning the same, by whom all things were made, and without him was not anything made that was made, and God was in him life, and in him the life was the light of men, whose light was him, and him that was the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.

    I'm thinking...no. Really, really not better.

    So if long sentences are the best thing, then why don't you have contempt for the King James Bible?
     
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  7. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Active Member

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    What do you want to convey, and how do you want the reader to digest it?
    Will description work with short sentences? Will it make the reader go through it quickly, or will longer sentences help them slow and digest it properly?
    Will action work with longer sentences? Do you want the reader to move through action quickly or feel mired in a battle?

    I see this partially as an extension of the 'write for yourself/or write for audience' discussion.

    In my opinion, part of a writer's job is to pace the book, or create cadences for the reader to get caught in.

    If I read a fight scene, I want it to go quickly, like real fights do.
    If I am reading procedure, I want it to be somewhat plodding and explanatory.
     
  8. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    It wasnt criticised for being long, it was criticised for being clunky, having words out of order and not clearly expressing an idea - it was the equivalent of me rewriting the above as

    "Criticised it was not for it length, but of witness of its clunkyness, which readers eyes could bear not, and ideas of which the brain comprehended little"

    In your post in the OP you've written many sentences some short and some long without any problem at all - it only falls apart from you when you start trying to sound like the KJ bible and sounding instead like yoda on a bad day

    Also to answer the question more directly - One idea/subject per sentence, end it if you are changing the idea, and don't write a sentence with more than a couple of clauses. (not hard and fast rules by any means but guidance for where you are now)
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2017
  9. izzybot

    izzybot Oportet Vivere Contributor

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    It's not particularly grammatical in terms of clauses and whatnot, but what I learned was that one sentence should be one complete 'thought'. I love me some long sentences too, and they get away from me sometimes, so when I'm editing I fall back on asking myself, "Is this really a single thought?" Sometimes it is! It's a really, really long thought. So then I think, "How can I split this up and turn it into two or three complete thoughts?"

    I used wordcounttools to search the longest sentence from a short I did last month. It's probably not a hall-of-famer for length, but it'll do for my explanatory purposes:

    The car didn’t have a glove compartment, but he must have something rigged up under [the dashboard] for storage, because he pulled out a orange bottle and struggled for a moment to get it open, dumping what seemed to be too many little white ovals into his mouth at once and dry swallowing them.​

    How many thoughts? In proper grammar / reality, a clause is about a 'thought' and sentences are thoughts strung together, so I'd count ... six:

    The car didn't have a glove compartment. He must have had something rigged up under [the dashboard] for storage. He pulled out an orange bottle. He struggled for a moment to get it open. He dumped what seemed to be too many little white oval into his mouth. He dry swallowed them.​

    So I could make this six short sentences if I wanted to. It's important to know how you can break things down. If every 'thought' can have a subject and a verb, you're good. Now I want to regroup these six sentences into closely-linked 'thoughts' - actions that follow each other directly, say.

    The car didn't have a glove compartment. He must have had something rigged up under [the dashboard] for storage. He pulled out an orange bottle and struggled for a moment to get it open, then dumped what seemed to be too many little white oval into his mouth and dry swallowed them.​

    The sentences that went into the new one of "He pulled . . ." all had the same subject of 'he' so I can link them together no problem. It's fairly easy to see how you can use the same method to link up the first two sentences to the same chain - how do these thoughts connect? There's no glove compartment, but he pulls something out form under the dash, so there must be something rigged up under there for storage. It's lengthy, but all the original 'thoughts' can be hooked together in a logical way.

    So, this sentence is preceded by another rather long sentence:

    As he cranked up the car and pulled back out onto the road – Lestrange had left the keys in it like a good getaway driver, but of course the wheel was on the wrong side, which was going to be annoying – Lestrange began to fumble under the dash.​

    This one's shorter by a few words, but it feels longer because there's a foreign 'thought' right in the middle of it. I needed to explain how the narrator was able to drive when I hadn't previously mentioned the keys, and I did it in a really lazy way, making for a sentence that's difficult/awkward to read not because of its length, but because it's poorly organized (see: clunky). You have two (or three) distinct 'thoughts' smacked into one sentence.

    As he cranked up the car and pulled back onto the road, Lestrange began to fumble under the dash.​

    Fine ✔

    Lestrange had left the keys in it like a good getaway driver, but of course the wheel was on the wrong side, which was going to be annoying.​

    Questionable - a stronger link could be made between "the keys are already in the car" and "the wheel is on the wrong side", but if we argue that the point of the sentence is presenting the pros and cons or benefits and difficulties of driving this car, then all right.

    So to untangle this sentence, I'd break it into its disparate 'thoughts' like I did with the "The car . . ." sentence before - that makes it easier to see what you're working with. Again, what's the point of each 'thought' or clause? What is its standalone meaning? How does it relate to the thoughts around it?

    He cranked the car up. He pulled back onto the road. Lestrange had left the keys in the ignition. The wheel was on the wrong side. That was going to be annoying. Lestrange began to fumble under the dash.​

    You can pretty clearly see that these thoughts don't follow in the same way they did with the "The car . . ." sentence - no wonder the full sentence looked bad. The first two are obvious to stitch back together, and the last one follows chronologically, so they're easy to combine into the sentence I ticked up above. The bit that was, in the original sentence, set off by dashes is more of a problem - it's off chronologically and it goes off on the tangent of the steering wheel.

    I'm likely to just cut that part entirely and work it into the surrounding sentences/paragraphs. I think about chronology in these types of things a lot. When should the keys be mentioned? Well, the narrator knew it was the getaway car when he first saw it pages ago, so when it initially showed up he could comment on how Lestrange left the keys in it. The complaint about having to drive a European car is only relevant when he actually starts to drive, so that bit is in approximately the right place chronologically, it just shouldn't be in the middle of another string of thoughts.

    Disorganization is, I think, the main problem you come across with long sentences. That, and information overload.

    I also typically want to use sentence length consciously, as a tool. Shorter sentences are punchy, immediate, tense. Longer ones let the reader breathe, get into the flow of them, and their rambling nature can really help to drive home the point of the punchier ones with contrast. You can also use disorganization as a tool, to emphasize a narrator's mental disorganization or to offer contrast or shock. Off the top of my head: "His skin was soft, and he was dead." Not connected thoughts, but the second clause isn't what you'd expect to come after the first, which makes it jarring in a way you probably want death to be. I don't know how applicable that is to non-prose writing, to be fair.

    But you need to be careful with that kind of thing. You don't do it for kicks, just because you can - you do it to make a point. My "As he cranked . . ." sentence up above isn't disorganized to make a point, it's disorganized because I wrote it badly, and while there's some leeway between the two to allow for taste, general organization is probably what you want to aim for. It's just more legible.

    So I guess if I had a cheat sheet for writing long sentences that don't suck, I'd say something like:
    • Make sure each clause has a purpose,
    • Make sure each clause makes sense in the context of the surrounding clauses,
    • Make sure you're not going off on unrelated tangents,
    • Keep the subject of your sentence in mind, and
    • Still avoid run-on sentences (those are different).
    And in general, look at sentences you don't like, figure out why you don't like them, and don't do those things. Look at sentences you do like, figure out why you like them, and do those things, instead.

    Anyway, like my own rambling sentences, this post has gone on way too long and just started feeling self-indulgent at some point, so I'll stop here and hope that it helped someone in some way or another.
     
  10. waitingforzion

    waitingforzion Senior Member

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    I don't think it is a good idea to change the wording of the Bible.

    But the King James Bible also has sentences like this:

    Hebrews (1:1-4)

    And this:
    (Ephesians 1:3-23)
     
  11. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    So you'd be happiest reading it in the original Aramaic? Or Hebrew?

    Or maybe you're referring to the translation into Greek?

    Or perhaps the translation into Latin?

    The King James was only a translation, thus a change to the wording of the Bible, in order to make it more comprehensible to the common man.

    The New English - and a slew of others - does the same thing, putting the KJ's generally sonorous language into something more friendly to the modern ear than does the Shakespearean tone of the KJ.
     
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  12. waitingforzion

    waitingforzion Senior Member

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    All the modern translations are based on corrupted manuscripts, which means that the modern bibles are not real bibles.
     
  13. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    So why do you want to sound like the KJ if its not a real bible ? (why are we even asking )
     
  14. waitingforzion

    waitingforzion Senior Member

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    I did not say that the KJV is not a real Bible. I said that the modern bibles are not real bibles. The bibles based on the critical text, like the NIV, the RSV, the ESV, etc, are not real bibles. But the Bibles based on the Textus Receptus, like the KJV, the Tyndale Bible, the Geneva Bible, etc, are real Bibles.
     
  15. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Nevertheless, it does contain short sentences. Why do you then have contempt for short sentences?
     
  16. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    How do you know the KJ isn't based on a corrupted text since its a translation ? By your logic none of the bibles are right except for the original hebrew version
     
  17. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    By that logic, the Satanic Bible and the Book of Mormon are considerably more reliable. At least we know who wrote those.
     
  18. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Active Member

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    Archeology has taught us that all translations are incorrect. The earliest 'in translation' manuscripts that have been found contain fights between translator and boss arguing about what words should be used and what words meant what.
     
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  19. waitingforzion

    waitingforzion Senior Member

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    It also contains long sentences.

    I don't know why you just assumed that I have contempt for short sentences.
     
  20. waitingforzion

    waitingforzion Senior Member

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    This discussion has devolved from being one pertaining to the length of sentences to being one bashing the King James Bible. I have no interest in arguing about this subject.

    I would rather also that you all stop mentioning my former attempts at emulating biblical prose style.

    Please let us return to the subject which this thread is about, the proper way to lengthen sentences.
     
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  21. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Do you ever write short sentences in your writing samples--as opposed to the perfectly good and coherent prose that you come up with when you're posting and not focusing on the writing of the post? Maybe you do and I've forgotten.

    I should just leave you alone, but it's hard to ignore the fact that you could write if you would just stop working so hard to destroy your writing. It's like watching someone make a perfectly pleasing dish, ladle every available condiment over it, and then complain that their cooking is unsuccessful.
     
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  22. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    The proper way to lengthen sentences in what style? Your apologetics post is about a sentence that is in your usual take on the King James style. Do you want us to ignore that and discuss normal sentences?
     
  23. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I would rather be a millionaire and be living with Angelina Joile - you don't always get what you want.

    More to the point it isn't former - your writing is still suffering from the same problems, words out of order, deliberately prosaic structure and so forth, which springs directly from your attempting to write in a style similar to the KJ bible ... when you write normally, as in the OP you have no problem constructing long sentences. It is when you start trying to write in a pseudo biblical manner that it all falls apart, because it is the clunky unnatural writing style that stops the flow of thought, not the sentence length per se.

    (also you started the biblical discussion when you said that all modern bibles weren't bibles - a top tip is not to raise issues you don't want to talk about - especially when your understanding of them is shaky and logically flawed)
     
  24. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Also, to get any insight into how long sentences are properly used, you're going to have to read. I know that you don't want to read, but there's really no avoiding it if you want to write.
     
  25. waitingforzion

    waitingforzion Senior Member

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    Actually the issue was raised by ChickenFreak, when she mentioned the short sentences in the King James Bible.

    My understanding that the King James Bible is the best English translation of the Bible is not flawed. It is a common and standard belief among many Christians.
     

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