Sheltering in Place – Day 62

As a writer, I have made some observations regarding sentences. They can be short. They can be long, stretching out into eternity. One of the longest sentences in literature is contained in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! The sentence is composed of 1,288 words. Some people say that James Joyce has the longest sentence with over 13,000 words in Ulysses. Others claim he merely left out the punctuation. When you’re James Joyce, you can do what you want.

For the rest of us, we often need to pay attention to our sentences. There is a certain tedium for the reader when every sentence has a similar structure and length. They can get bored. They can start skipping. They can put the book down. Like forever. Yikes!

To prevent the unspeakable from happening, when I am at the final draft, and lo those many drafts that came before, I check my sentences, not just for grammar and punctuation but for length. Like the preceding sentence. I mean, really, Heather? That is one long run-on sentence. However, if I really wanted to keep it, I might surround it with shorter, more clipped sentences. To break it up. Or get away with it. Take your pick.

As writers, we like our words. Stringing a long line of gorgeous, evocative words together is yummier to us than any dessert in the world. Well, almost.

There are no hard and fast rules, but usually lush, flowing sentences work well for descriptive or languid passages. Usually brief, shorter sentences work well for high tension scenes. They also serve to break up the monotony. They often get the job done.

“For sale. Baby shoes. Never used.”

Ernest Hemingway supposedly wrote that 6-word story. Maybe, maybe not. But whoever it was, there was a writer who knew the long and short of it.

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