While diving into a new book project, I find myself struggling this week with the art of building a reasonable sentence. The job sounds easy enough. Stick a noun in close proximity with a verb, surround it on one end with an upper case letter, on the other end with a punctuation mark and there you have it. A simple sentence. Not to be confused with a sentence fragment, which the previous sentence most assuredly is.Some are short. They shoot from the hip. Information is conveyed in quick bursts. The readers pace quickens. Tension drives the words. Suspense is heightened. Our protagonist’s mood darkens. The story takes shape.
Sentence construction does most of the work in that paragraph. There is no plot, no character development, no scenery for the reader to consider. Just short, choppy sentences that move the reader along, set the pace of the moment and establish a mood for the work. While you may not be riveted by that short blast of information, you weren’t bored either. The sentences drove you down the page, searching for more information. And so you went, willingly, for a trip that would take you who-knows-where.
I love short sentences. No more or less than long sentences mind you. But I do love them. Perhaps because they are so difficult to do well. At least in quantity. It’s easy to write a short sentence. For goodness sake, school children are masters of the short, declarative sentence. They appear to have a special talent for developing them, or for saving graphite at all cost. Either way, you’ll rarely find a 3rd grader who will willingly write a sentence with much fat in it. They hit. They run. They’re finished with the assignment.
Dave Barry, the humorist, is my favorite long sentence writer. Dave seems to have the ability to string together so many words in a single sentence that I’m not at all sure at the mid point whether there will be any left unused by the end of his sentence or not. But it makes no difference. He does his job well. He makes me laugh. And if the great and powerful Dave Barry feels that he needs to employ sentences that are so long I need a MetroRail Pass to get from one end to the other, so be it. He’s the boss. I’m just a reader who’s happy to have been invited to come along for the ride.
So maybe I shouldn’t sweat my sentences so much. Perhaps I should just take a deep breath, lay my fingers on the keyboard and see what happens. After all, it’s not like anyone’s life depends on what flows out onto the page. Provided you don’t take into account my mortgage, the car payments, the electric bill, my high speed access account, the cell phone bill, the regular phone bill, the fact that my younger daughter (first runner up, should my older daughter be unable to fulfiller her duties due to sickness, schedule conflicts or an inconceivably powerful case of apathy) will need braces shortly and the occasional veterinarian bill – I guess it doesn’t really matter.
And in case you’re wondering – that last sentence was ridiculously long, unfocused and probably unnecessary. Feel free to use it if you like.