|Well, here’s a slap in the face of any writer who tries to write concisely. I read Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them and got to the chapter on sentences, and the author’s going on and on about beautiful, long sentences.|
She quoted 48- and 92-word sentences from Rebecca West, and a whopper of a 134-worder from Samuel Johnson, then topped that with a 181-word winner from Virginia Woolf. One hundred eighty-one words! I mean, that’s a lot of writing between the first word and the period. The author praised Woolf up and down, using words like graceful and witty, imaginative and intelligent, and showing how it allows the reader to skip from subject to subject with Woolf, like “crossing gossamer bridges” in her brain (gossamer bridges, I liked that). (And just in case you were wondering, that’s a 43-word sentence.)
So—as a fellow writer, you understand—I’m getting all excited, thinking, Wow, I can do that. I can write big sentences. Because if there’s one thing I can do, and do well, it’s cross gossamer bridges in my brain. In fact, I would say my brain is loaded with gossamer bridges, my thoughts leaping from one to another, spying a bridge, so to speak, and stepping right across it into a whole other area of thought, then on to the next bridge and the next, just like Virginia Woolf in her essay. (53 words)
So I’m feeling pretty good about myself, not that I can compare to a West or a Johnson or a Woolf, mind you, but I can cross a wispy bridge or two, and then I get to the clincher, where the author points out that these types of writers are not just “showing off,” but giving “admirably accurate” promises of the “sparkling wit and the deep seriousness” of the writing that will follow. (73) Showing off. That’s exactly how she put it. In other words, there has to be more of a reason for the long-winded sentence than just showing that you can do it. Rats.
So I just put that book down, walked into the kitchen, and washed a sink full of dirty dishes until they came out sparkling clean, because if there’s one thing I can do, and do well, it’s wash dishes, and that’s something people, my family in particular, can appreciate, as you can well imagine, because, though there isn’t much need for long, meandering, wordy sentences, there is always, always a need for a squeaky-clean dish and some spotless knives and forks. (82) And spoons. (84)We all have our talents.