Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sentence Length or Length of Sentence

Your rationale for using long sentences has its origins in recognition of how many things in the present had their origins way back beyond simple past tenses and into compound tenses, with tendrils or webs reaching into the present moment.

Another considerable contribution to the force behind your fondness for long sentences has to do with the way a sentence begins to take on a cadence, suggesting a swirl of information as it is spilled out on some work area surface.  

You find the same kind of pleasure in long sentences that you experience when doing crossword puzzles, the clues for the definitions being at once ambiguous, sometimes a pun, causing you to lean forward in your seat, alert to challenge.

The longer the sentence, the greater the possibility to go skittering off on some syntactical detour, bringing the entire construction of words to a monstrous hash of circuitry.  In the throes of composition, you sometimes feel the tingle of excitement at the knowledge of getting on in length and of only getting a start in what could be an entire paragraph, contained in a single sentence.

There is also the pleasure of showing off, in effect announcing that you do not have to rely on simple, declarative sentences to carry the weight of your thoughts and narrative purpose.  At your stage of life, showing off should not mean that much to you; the sentences, regardless of length, should carry the ideas you seek to investigate and convey, should adhere to some sense of logic where the words may be read for their purpose, not for their flair.

But you have, in your time, read any number of works where you had to fight to stay awake, even to the point of taking notes or marking the text to make sure you knew what the author was going on about.  Worse yet, you've had to suffer through many of your own attempts at composition, either bored to an embarrassing degree, or impatient with yourself for not getting on with it.

You'd not considered narrative to be anything but immediate present time until you discovered the need to read and absorb the work of a writer you came to, with a few notable exceptions, relatively later on in your own process of discovery.  By the time you'd come to this writer, you'd already seen your early style and voice begin to emerge from the narrative tangle.  

You'd found yourself one afternoon in a high school class describing the prose of some author as having the same clattering sound of the schoolboy prank of tying strings of tin cans to the rear bumper of an auto.

Your metaphor won laughter from the teacher and students from whom you'd wished to evoke laughter, but with the reward of their laughter came your comparison of the sound of your own writing.  The more stern teacher who was your own judgment suggested that you might well have been describing yourself.

The writer with whom you've been on more increasingly friendly terms over the years is William Faulkner, whose work has begun to strike emotional recognition from you in addition to your earlier, more intellectually rooted reasons for appreciation.  You may read elitism and the kind of showing off you do not appreciate in others, thus why should you allow it in yourself.  

Liking Faulkner at first was liking him for his remoteness from the more accessible narration.  But once you admitted that he was not so easily come by for you, the game began to change.  You saw humor on several levels, enormous regret, complex feelings, wrapped in outlandish behavior, and, most important to the emerging you, compassion for individuals you'd once greeted with the sense of great relief that you were not so needy, ignorant, or self-centered.

For the moment, your solution seems to keep you happy.  First and early drafts often wander along into twenty-five word lengths and beyond, set forth in the sure knowledge that you will come back, pen in hand, to shorten them.  Unlike Faulkner's long sentences, yours often reveal what you've come to think of as stuffing words, words such as "somewhat," "rather." "perhaps," and "significant," words which, on closer inspection, cause more of the bloated feeling you associate with boredom.

You discussed this aspect with a writing chum, who reminded you of something you'll do well to keep at close hand.  "When you're talking,"  he said, "people may think you go on a bit, but no one is aware of your sentence length."

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