All my life I’ve been told to be mindful of long sentences, that it’s important to keep them short. Imagine my shock when in Writing Tools I’m told the following:
“Write what you fear. Until the writer tries to master the long sentence, she is no writer at all, for while length makes a bad sentence worse, it can make a good sentence better.” (p.36)
The author then proceeded to quote a few passages from Tom Wolfe which showcased the beauty of a long sentence. I have to admit, if I had read it for myself I wouldn’t have thought it was all one sentence, but OH what a glorious sentence! Very much showcased the beauty of a well-written of a long sentence.
Long Sentence Attributes:
What helps make a long sentence good?
a. makes sure the subject and verb of the main clause come early in the sentence
b. use the long sentence to describe something long. Let form follow function
c. Chronological order, use it.
d. use the long sentence in a mix with short and medium length sentences.
e. use the long sentence as a list, or catalogue of products, names, images etc
f. Edit carefully, long sentences need to make every word matter.
Using long sentences go against the grain, the best writers aren’t afraid of them, so learn how to use them well. Sometimes you just have to take the chance, after all, writing is an act of faith, not just a matter of grammar.
Break out of the trap of thinking that all sentences must have 18 words or less. Mix up your sentences, have some short, have others long. Consider that Elizabethan sentences often ran to 45 words, Victorian to 29, and today we average 20 or less. It’s not a bad thing to use a long sentence, word it well, use it well and become a better writer.
How to improve:
How can you become better?
You can become better at writer longer sentences by keeping an eye out for them, examine them, see if they meet the criteria listed above.
You can also practice. Take some shorter sentences and see if you can put them together to make a well-crafted longer sentence.
You don’t have to make a complex sentence, even a simple sentence can be long. Try describing your table top, contents of your garbage can, or a painting on the wall. Take whatever you have and practice. It’s the practice that will help you improve.