sean of the dead's picture
sean of the dead from Madisonville, KY is reading Peckerwood, by Jed Ayres March 20, 2013 - 2:32pm

I am in the middle of writing what will probably amount to the most impressive short story I have ever committed to paper, but I have hit the Great Wall of Syntax. I have included a sentence that gives so much information it could be expanded into a short story/novella itself, but ends up 92 words.

My question is: seeing as how I am neither Thomas Pynchon nor James Joyce, is there ever a time when a 92 word sentence is acceptable in a short story?

OtisTheBulldog's picture
OtisTheBulldog from Somerville, MA is reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz March 20, 2013 - 2:43pm

At this point, you need to go for 100. Otherwise, who cares, you know? It's like being 492 lbs. Yeah, you're bloated and deathly obsese. But it's that extra 8 that really brings you to a whole new level. That's jaws of life and crane type shit.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs March 20, 2013 - 2:54pm

There's a time when it's acceptable, but not because you need to convey a lot of information. It should be for a stylistic reason.

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland March 20, 2013 - 5:07pm

I am in the middle of writing what will probably amount to the most impressive short story I have ever committed to paper,

Please God, let this be a Honey Badger story!!!.

 

To answer your question: I have no idea.

Long sentences don't bother me if they are punctuated correctly or if they don't need punctuations. It's the ones that have random punctuation that I don't know how to read and seem to repeat themselves in the middle of the sentence that bother me.

Also, like Bradley said. If there is a purpose for it stylistically, like for pacing perhaps. It could be affective.

Frank Chapel's picture
Frank Chapel from California is reading Thomas Ligotti's works March 20, 2013 - 8:00pm

I'm jumping on the go for a hundred bandwagon. I'd also agree that style seems a more logical reason than information.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 21, 2013 - 2:31am

I'll go with yes.

Tim Johnson's picture
Tim Johnson from Rockville, MD is reading Notes From a Necrophobe by T.C. Armstrong March 21, 2013 - 5:33am

Depends on the readability and what your school of thought is. Some people believe it's the writer's job to convey information in a clear and concise manner. Others believe being overly loquacious is art and that it's OK to confuse the hell out of the reader and make them work to decipher the code of your prose. It's probably best to avoid such long sentences when possible, but if it works, it works. Why don't you post it, and we could take a look?

drea's picture
drea from Rural Alberta, Canada is reading between the lines March 21, 2013 - 6:19am

Vanessa Veselka said she wrote a sentence that was like five pages long or something. And she's a PEN BIngham winner for first fiction, so...

I say let 'er buck, buddy. 

Nathan Scalia's picture
Nathan Scalia from Kansas is reading so many things March 21, 2013 - 7:00am

I'm not sure how we're supposed to comment without actually reading the sentence. For all we know, fifty-eight of those words are "and."

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like March 21, 2013 - 8:10am

Do not let these encouragements tempt you. Only people who are already considered to be among the greatest modern writers are allowed to write long sentences. How do they write them before anyone knows who they are? Time travel, maybe. I'm not sure; I'm not a physicist.

dufrescm's picture
dufrescm from Wisconsin is reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep March 21, 2013 - 9:04am

Sean - 

Personally, I would not enjoy reading a 92 word sentence. I have a hard time believing that it could not be broken into smaller bits for easier digestion and reflection.

 

That being said, your art is your own, and if you think you can rock it, then what does it hurt to try? Just don't forget to read it with a critical eye to make sure it's the best it can be. Who knows? Maybe it's 92 words now, but you trim it to 75 and get a better impact? Or add those 8 words and hit like a hammer? 

 

I think, in the end, the only judge you need to convince is the "reader", whoever that may be. If the sentence wows them, awesome. If it confuses - back to the drawing board.

 

 

I'm waffling...

--Christa

rob kitner's picture
rob kitner March 21, 2013 - 10:30am

is there ever a time when a 92 word sentence is acceptable in a short story?

My 92-word reply follows presently:

In reply to the question posited which seems more a request on your part to not bend but shatter an unwritten literary rule--that personal style and creativity, or experimentation, should not trump popular convention apropos of sentence length--I feel it is advisable to ask you to consider the poor reader who, by the very nature of the difficult task at hand (i.e. reading), lies at a major disadvantage in the attempt to conceptualize you vision represented by words on the page, without having lines upon lines of syntax strangulating their efforts.

OR

Probably, no.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts March 21, 2013 - 11:16am

If a reader can't navigate a ninety-two  word sentence then fine, they don't need to read serious fiction.

That John Gardner Art of Fiction book he says that every writer, as an exercise, should write a sentence that's at the least two pages long. I think he's freaking nuts, but I appreciate the sentiment.

The labrynthine sentence can take a bunch of forms, like C McCarthy's ridiculous polysyndeton, or DFW or Douglas Adams's layered parantheticals. I love the long sentence as long as they are placed somewhere that makes sense for the pace, stylized enough but not too transparent where you don't say "okay, I get it, I see what you're doing here. . ." throughout the last half of it. And as long as that end clause really, really pays off.

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters March 21, 2013 - 12:49pm

See for reference the never-ending paragraphs contained within Seymour: An Introduction. 

 

Courtney's picture
Courtney from the Midwest is reading Monkey: A Journey to the West and a thousand college textbooks March 21, 2013 - 4:20pm

I like long sentences a lot. Faulkner has a six-page sentence in The Bear, and didn't MLK have a 100 word sentence in Letter from a Birmingham Jail? Sometimes, they're the best way to convey certain things -- like build-up, or cause/effect, or being high/crazy as hell while writing.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 21, 2013 - 8:48pm

@Sean - For better our worse we are who we are. Writing is personal. So a better question might be, "Is there a better way for me to write this then this 92 word sentence?"

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters March 22, 2013 - 5:17am

Even better question: "Is there a better way for me to write this than this 92 word sentence?"
 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 22, 2013 - 5:30am

I might reconsider. 

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest March 22, 2013 - 5:43am

Even better question: "Is there a better way for me to write this than this 92 word sentence?"

- This made me laugh.

Strange Photon's picture
Strange Photon from Fort Wayne, IN is reading Laurie Anderson lyrics March 22, 2013 - 6:31am

I've always been a believer in, "If it works, it works and 'rules' can suck my dick."

I think that is the great thing about creation. You do whatever the fuck you want to, and if you do it right, and if your reader's digestion of your words evidences that you've done it right, then there is no reason to change anything. In art, efficiency and economy only have value in places and times when lavishness and intricacy just don't feel right. This is my opinion, and I know nothing, so there ya go.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts March 22, 2013 - 1:21pm

". . . suck my dick."

That's you answer for everything!

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 22, 2013 - 1:42pm

@Strange - Yeah great idea, but if he has to ask it probably isn't working.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like March 22, 2013 - 8:12pm

if he has to ask it probably isn't working.

[Should I? I mean, it's a little played out... what the hell]

THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID.

drea's picture
drea from Rural Alberta, Canada is reading between the lines March 28, 2013 - 2:30pm

Actually what she said was, "well he can just go suck a bag of fucked up dicks." 

 

 

You're welcome. 

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like March 28, 2013 - 4:55pm

I read on "the internet" that King Arthur ate the disembodied penises of his enemies.

It's true [that I read that.]

drea's picture
drea from Rural Alberta, Canada is reading between the lines March 28, 2013 - 4:57pm

is there anything the internet can't do? 

 

Sean, how is that sentence coming along? 

sean of the dead's picture
sean of the dead from Madisonville, KY is reading Peckerwood, by Jed Ayres March 28, 2013 - 5:24pm

@Drea - The sentence got cut down to a low-70's word count and is currently being walked all over. Thanks for asking!

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated March 28, 2013 - 6:32pm

Well when do we get to see it?

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest March 28, 2013 - 6:45pm

That's what she said. 

There it is again.