I often warn writers against writing lengthy and tangled sentences. My friend Ellen Holder recently sent me an email with some perceptive comments about a long sentence she’d just read. I thought her analysis was wonderful, and she gave me permission to reprint it here. (Thank you, Ellen!)
I’ve noticed some writers often use long, meandering sentences. One I just read is 99 words long, filling the whole paragraph. What is the reasoning behind such a long, rambling sentence? I can take thoughts in manageable bites, but one long, continuous stream of thought is hard to swallow.
Here is the sentence:
As I lie in my four-poster mahogany bed with the giant canopy, the one I made love to my husband in for decades, I raise myself onto my elbows and study his features across the room as the moonbeams stream through the crack in the curtains, pouring into the open, snoring mouth, revealing the secret that the teeth seen in the daylight are only another ruse, that time has taken yet another one of my husband’s rights; the confinement to the hospital bed is not the only indignity.
I guess it’s good for me to read other authors and study their writing styles, but I do get exasperated with a book where the enjoyment of reading is lessened by such quirky, rambling writing.
And maybe it makes me feel superior, because I think I could write it better. Not the whole book, but I do truly think that sentence could be greatly improved with a few periods.
Something in me thinks I have to keep reading until I get to a period, but that is the purpose of punctuation, isn’t it?
Back to Jean: Yes, Ellen – that’s the purpose of punctuation. And yes, I know you could write it better! (Thanks for sharing your thoughts!)