Last month I posted some comments from Ellen Holder about a very long sentence. (Ellen is a terrific writer who’s a member of my writing group.)
Here’s another perceptive observation from Ellen:
I was reading a novel by Kristy Woodson Harvey and came to a paragraph I can barely understand. I read quickly and, when I skimmed over this, I realized I could not picture what I was reading. I read it again…and again. I read it to my husband several times. When I finally thought I had figured out what she was describing, I could think of a much better way to write it. But it’s possible I still do not get the picture of what she wrote. What do you think of this?
I had walked to Holden that night and leaned beside him on a nonfunctioning radiator. I crossed my arms, looked down at his hands and sparked my lighter to the end of the cigarette hanging between his lips. He smiled out of one corner of his mouth and said, “Isn’t that supposed to go the other way around?”
I did figure out what she was describing, but I don’t think a reader should have to struggle to make sense out of a successful author’s writing. I was trying to picture her lighting his cigarette with her arms crossed, and I was trying to picture her looking down at his hands at the same time she was lighting his cigarette at his lips. Then I thought his question to her was referring to which end of the lighter she was using, which seemed absurd. On further thought, I realize he meant that usually a guy would light a cigarette for a woman.