10

I'm writing a story targeted towards children in which the protagonist is a young girl. I find that in writing her dialog and the narrative, I'm producing a lot of very long sentences, to the point that an entire paragraph may be seven or eight lines long, but consisting of a single sentence. It feels stylistic to me, sort of relating to the youth and impetuousness of the main character. It's not that the entire thing is written this way; these very long sentences tend to occur at times where the character is upset, or very busy, or rushed, or has a lot going on. I wasn't thinking about it specifically when I was writing them, they just came out naturally as I wrote, but I think they are meant to convey the mood a bit.

Or am I just rationalizing poor writing?

A few examples:

In context, the main character ("Antimony") is upset and thinking about other times she was upset:

And once in the kitchen, when Antimony devised what she thought would be a very clever recipe for a cake which she wanted to make for her mother's birthday, where instead of using baking powder, she would use paprika so the cake would be all red and beautiful, and instead of eggs and milk, she would use eggs and orange juice because everyone knows that orange juice goes better with eggs than milk does.

A few lines later:

And when the timer dinged and Antimony opened the oven and carefully pulled out the oven rack and saw what had happened, she cried because she had been so excited about her clever recipe, and because she wanted so badly to surprise her mother with a nice birthday cake, and because it had taken so much work and she was very tired and now she had nothing to show for it, and because anyway she didn't even have a present to give to her mother now.

An unrelated example:

The work was good to focus on to keep her mind off her troubles---especially once she was done gathering the wood and no longer had to wander around so much---and in no time at all she had a small fire going, which turned into a bigger fire, and then an even bigger fire, and then a fire which was a bit too large and she had to poke at the logs with a long stick to move them about the right way so that it would settle down.

  • 3
    I would actually say that's rather good writing. Stylistic. So long as it doesn't dominate the entire narrative, in which case it would definitely take its toll on the reader. – temporary_user_name Jan 5 '13 at 18:50
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gates_of_Paradise The novel consists of 40,000 words written in two sentences, with nearly no punctuation, making it an exercise in constrained writing. The second sentence contains only four words "And they marched all night" – SF. Jan 6 '13 at 15:15
  • @SF. That sounds like Autum of the Patriarch. I got to page 40, counted six total sentences, and threw the damn thing across the room. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Aug 23 '16 at 11:00
  • 2
    I think it's worth noting that, when you write in very long sentences, your full stops take on much more importance. 'Put the most interesting information at the end of the sentence' is a good rule of thumb in general, but especially here, where you want your reader to feel the extra-long sentence was worth it. In your first extract, I would delete 'does', which is just grammar, and finish on the most interesting, meaning-rich word, 'milk'. In your second extract, I would recast the sentence to finish on 'present'. In your third extract, I think the ending is lovely. – Cakebox Aug 23 '16 at 15:04
  • This reminds me of Anne of Green Gables -- in the series, when she's young and high energy, the sentences are longer, but then as she matures, and realizes that showing ALL her vocabulary isn't needed for clear communication, the sentences also get shorter. – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Feb 27 at 15:33

10 Answers 10

8

I think it largely depends on what kind of "children's book" we're talking about. If this is a book for teenagers (or even "tweenagers"), then it is an excellent way to convey a feeling of restlessness or stress. If we're talking about younger audiences, it might be dangerous simply because the sentences could be confusing to the reader, invoking in them an actual feeling of distress.

I see nothing wrong with the style, but relatively "new" readers might find trouble deciphering it.

  • Great, thanks for the help. It's targeted towards slightly older readers, probably like 8 to 12 years old or so, so I don't think it will be too challenging for them. – brianmearns Jan 5 '13 at 23:57
4

Young narrators often think, and string their sentences together, paratactically -- short independent clauses joined by conjunctions: We went to the zoo and we saw a lion and then we saw a monkey and the monkey threw some bananas at the people and we thought it was funny but then he ran at the bars and screamed and I was scared . . . " That's a pretty young narrator.

The older the narrator is, the more they will tend toward hypotaxis -- embedding one idea within another, using independent and subordinate clauses, and so on.

Of course, there will be something in between, depending on the age of the narrator. I think the notion of following the stream of consciousness works here.

4

I'd have to see these excerpts in context of her thoughts in other situations, but I think if you're doing it deliberately to mimic her feelings and thoughts, it's fine. It feels like nervous-energy stream-of-consciousness, and if that's what you're aiming for, you have it down nicely.

If you're trying for a slightly silly book, I'd even ramp it up a bit more and throw in some hyperbole:

The work was good to focus on to keep her mind off her troubles — especially once she was done gathering the wood and no longer had to wander around so much — and in no time at all she had a small fire going, which turned into a bigger fire, and then an even bigger fire, and then a ripping great fire, and then a fire which was really rather too large for her taste, thank you very much, and she had to rush about and find a really long stick so she could poke at the logs and spread them out so they'd settle down and behave themselves like proper firewood logs ought to, which is to say burn respectably and give off some heat and light and not try to set the woods ablaze.

  • Thanks for the idea. It's not quite that silly, but I appreciate the help! – brianmearns Jan 5 '13 at 23:54
2

Actually, this is the only situation where run-on sentences should be used (and work better than short sentences). In ordinary situations they should be avoided like the plague, but if you really want to translate that the character is tired or nervous or upset, run-on sentences are the way to go. Especially tired or rushed, because the reader will also be slightly out of breath, so to say, after reading the whole sentence (and tired after reading several of them), which is actually something we want in this case. So I'd say you're good, don't change a thing ;)

2

By default, my writing style idiosyncratically entails long sentences. It feels natural to write as I think and speak. It's more a matter of rhythm for me than anything else. Though I can't substantiate this, I sense that it allows me to permeate the reader's or listener's subconscious mind more effectively.

Incidentally, I was once asked by a member of another Stack Exchange community to reduce my sentence length. I obliged despite not being in concurrence with his request (refer to the edit version history and comments of the question):

https://english.stackexchange.com/q/266769/96647

As illustrated at the preceding link, some reader's may find such sentences to be mentally exasperating though I don't believe that that you should construe this as a sufficient justification for curtailing or adapting one's writing style.

My only advice, based on subjective experience, is to be mindful of the dangling modifiers that contrived sentences are prone to paving to the way to.

2

This is one of the many cases in which advice about writing is misstated. Long sentences are not bad. Convoluted sentences are bad. A sentence can be long without being convoluted. A sentence can be quite short and still be convoluted.

However:

  • Convoluted sentence do tend to be long.
  • A greater percentage of long sentences are convoluted than short sentences.
  • The process of fixing a convoluted sentence will often result in multiple short sentences being created.
  • Length is easier to quantify than how convoluted a sentence is.

All of which makes it easier to say, "avoid long sentences" than "avoid convoluted sentences".

People often prefer hearing this advice as well because it may be difficult to tell if your sentence is convoluted, but it is easy to tell if it is long.

Still, the advice is wrong. Being convoluted is the sin, not being long. If your thought is convoluted, you need to untangle the thought. Merely introducing more periods into the mix just turns a convoluted sentence into a convoluted paragraph.

On the other hand, some thoughts are better and more elegantly expressed with a single long sentence than by many small ones.

  • 1
    Convoluted is worse, but i think that long is, almost always, inherently wrong. – Reed Aug 23 '16 at 4:05
0

not at all a problem. At least w/in the contxt of these examples. Just make sure your story has a variety of paces and rhythms (one metric of which is sentence length) so you don't get boring.

0

A bit long for me, but there is nothing wrong with your sentence structure. Indeed, when it comes to clearing confusion, children are way ahead of adults.

Logic dictates: you cannot (in reading) be confused between a period and a comma, if you've no idea which is correct.

In many ways good children's writing is more convoluted than adult's because it is more dependent on voice.

"Mr Henry Blackwell lay atop the duvet his double bed, reading out loud, his back propped against the wooden headboard. He paused, raising his hand to cover his mouth as he yawned a mighty yawn."

By attempting to break this up into small, single action sentences, you lose its rhythm, but worse - you likely abuse the verb 'to be'

"Mr Henry Blackwell lay on top of the duvet on his double bed. He was reading out loud. His back was propped against the wooden headboard. He paused to raise his hand to cover his mouth. He yawned a mighty yawn."

I wrote both examples - the second is awful.

I would also like to add: dumbing things down so they are easier to read has no benefit for the education of children.

0

I am not a native speaker and I have trouble with long sentences.

A long sentence is tiring to the eye and requires more concentration. Long is bad; you need to come up for air.

Sometimes, a longer sentence may be needed to break the pattern of medium and short sentences, but even then a long sentence should not be longer than about 50 words.

Some academic writers using long sentences are tolerable because it is the subject matter and not the style that is important, but for creative writing, to me, it is a definite no-no.

Yes, some authors get away with them, so it may be in part subjective.

I agree that the “and & and” model works for some over-excited children, in some circumstances, but I think that most children will tend to speak in short bursts of short sentences and fragments.

There are some related Q in Writer's SE like seeking a humorous example of long winded paragraph one sentence long , and What's the difference between purple prose and vividly descriptive writing?

  • Monica - I removed my downvote -- your edit did a great job of keeping the most useful parts of the answer while removing the attitude! – April --Un-Slander Monica-- Feb 28 at 13:36
  • This response is spot on. I would be much less likely to read a book with this kind of construction. People need to vary sentence length. Brevity. Clarity. Long sentences can be good. The best writing uses them to great effect. But a text full of them is unpleasant. – user49466 Mar 2 at 14:46
0

I rather enjoy the narrative. (Though I venture I would not enjoy the cake!)

Personally, I would split the first and third into two. But I think that is a subjective, style preference, not based on any broken grammar rule.

And once in the kitchen, Antimony devised what she thought would be a very clever recipe for a cake, which she wanted to make for her mother's birthday. Instead of using baking powder, she would use paprika so the cake would be all red and beautiful, and instead of eggs and milk, she would use eggs and orange juice because everyone knows that orange juice goes better with eggs than milk does.

The work was good to focus on to keep her mind off her troubles---especially once she was done gathering the wood and no longer had to wander around so much. And in no time at all she had a small fire going, which turned into a bigger fire, and then an even bigger fire, and then a fire which was a bit too large and she had to poke at the logs with a long stick to move them about the right way so that it would settle down.

Just in case you were curious about how I would split it. Sounds like she's on quite an adventure, good luck!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.