Thursday, June 19, 2014

Long Sentences

With some frequency, the subject of long sentences finds its way bubbling to the surface in the huge stew pot that is metaphor and actuality for your waking life.  

You did not always write long sentences; you certainly did not dream in them.remember, favoring instead the effect of the shorter, simpler declarative sentences. Short sentences got the work done, let you know who was in charge.  

Even back then, when a character in your own work or the work of a writer you admired said such things as, "I'll have to think that over," or "There are many ways of looking at the matter," you knew that character was not the one to follow.  He or she was too reflective to make it in the kind of action-driven material so dear to you.

But when the enormous effect the prose style of Ernest Hemingway released its hold on you, then strode off to try its hand on younger college students, you still favored the shorter sentence. This was true even though you were relishing ways of implications, writing in ways where nuance could invite itself in, then decide it liked the food and wished to remain for a time.

In the narrative style of Henry James, you found a man who could spin out a long sentence the way the spider outside your kitchen door seems able to spin out a web. In much the same way you find annoyance with the spider as you wend your way to the laundry room--"Can't you find another place to weave your web?"--you used to wax irritated with James.  "Can't you just say it, man?  Do we have to put up with all those dependent and independent clauses?"

More to your immediate liking was the way William Faulkner took on a sentence, lulled it to sleep to the point where he was able to slip in a reference to the immediate past then start to get smug about what he'd done, whereupon he'd see if he could possibly throw in a hint of something that happened a generation or two back in the past, and then, as though showing he had nothing against the immediate present, have someone remind the characters and us that dinner was waiting.

You did not then nor do you now fault James for being sloppy; you don't catch him messing up his tenses or violating point of view or adding such troubled expressions that would cause the reader to give up.  

In the manner of a reliable travel agent, Henry James sold you a ticket somewhere and by golly he may take you the long way around, but he got you where he said he was going to.  You may have seen or overheard some things in the process that caused you to hope for some explanation, but you always had the feeling his shyness preventing him from nudging you in the ribs in a situation as delicate as his study of two married couples in his novel, The Golden Bowl.

Although he was tough going at first and still merits close attention from you, Faulkner is more your man when the matter is long sentences.  Faulkner had a thing about time, saying in effect that we cannot escape the past, however much we try.  Some of it comes forth like an over eager Labrador Retriever, wanting recognition and a chuck under the chin.

You relate well to that--long sentence well.  You continue surviving, remaining, carrying your artifacts and memories from the past along with you.  In a metaphorical sense, you have storage lofts in which memories, effects of deeds, and the effects Life has had on you are kept.

No wonder your sentences are long.  Sometimes, when you reread them, you wonder how it is you progressed to this stage from such short sentences.  You recall your time at the Associated Press, being told the AP had spent a good deal of money on a survey.  The conclusion of the survey:  Readers do not like sentences with over seventeen words.

You often enjoy a long, languorous sentence in much the same matter you enjoy a large steak.  None of these dinky fillets mignon for you at such times.

The thing about Faulkner's long sentences for you is that more often than not, you read them for the ride.  He is a long ride, but he leaves you wanting more.

The closest you have come to that is some over-seventeen-word sentences and a great passion for what you are doing.

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