Long Sentences

Okay, I'm new, too.

Curious about Litopians

Not open for further replies.

Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
As writers, we are warned about run-on sentences, though these can be short as well as long. An author's use of punctuation can give their writing a distinctive style, with some eschewing conventional punctuation. Their defiance can lead to a narrative that's difficult to read, as in James Joyce's Ulysses, and some sentences become very long indeed.

Marcel Proust wrote an 847-word long sentence (in the original French text) in the first volume of In Search of Lost Time. William Faulkner opens Absalom Absalom!, with a sentence that's 122 words long. He continues in this way, and it's considered one of the finest novels of the 20th century. I somehow doubt, that his style would get past the gatekeepers at a modern literary agency!

I've been aware of such legendary stylistic eccentricities for some time but came across a more modern example last night. I recently began Kate Atkinson's Case Histories, which is the first in a series of novels featuring a detective protagonist. In the novel, he's investigating three seemingly unrelated family tragedies. One of these involves the inexplicable murder of a young woman, who's acting as a clerk for her father at his solicitors' practice. The long sentence come as a stream-of-consciousness, as he stumbles into his office to find his daughter lying stabbed to death on the floor of the boardroom after a mysterious intruder attacks one solicitor, before turning his blade on her:

And Laura, who liked apricot yogurt and drank tea but not coffee and who had size six feet and who loved horses, who preferred plain chocolate to milk chocolate and has spent five years learning classical guitar but never played any more and who was still sad that their pet dog, Poppy, had been run over the previous summer, Laura who was Theo's child and his best friend, dropped the land registry form and ran into the boardroom after the man—perhaps because she had a Red Cross certificate or because she had done a self-defence course at sixth-form college, or perhaps it was from simple curiosity or instinct, it was impossible to know what she was thinking as she ran into the boardroom where the man, this complete stranger, had spun on the balls of his feet with the agility and grace of a dancer, his hand still moving in the same arc that had cut through David Holroyd's arm and which now scythed through Laura's neck, carving through her carotid artery, sending a great plume of her precious beautiful blood across the room.

It certainly works as a shocking sentence, with the solicitor's jumbled memories falling over themselves, but it's 185 words long!

I've just finished editing my third novel, and the longest sentence I found was 35 words long, which I tidied by inserting a pair of dashes.

What is your longest sentence?

(I'm not talking about marriage!)
Not only is it long, I don't believe in that sentence. I don't believe in it emotionally. If I did, the length of it might not register. But I don't believe in the thoughts attributed to a terrified, desperate father at such a moment. I could believe he's think or say those things later, afterwards.

As for me own...eee, gosh, Paul, I dunno, I'd better check :)
I don't write long sentences out of fear. Many years ago I was criticised for using over-long sentences with too many sub clauses, the cheek, but there you go; I don't think there is anything wrong with sub clauses.

Is there any way in Word Paul to find the lengths of sentences because 89,000 words is an awful lot to trawl through to try and reply to your question. :)
I don't write long sentences out of fear. Many years ago I was criticised for using over-long sentences with too many sub clauses, the cheek, but there you go; I don't think there is anything wrong with sub clauses.

Is there any way in Word Paul to find the lengths of sentences because 89,000 words is an awful lot to trawl through to try and reply to your question. :)

I am ignorant of MS Word, and too stingy to pay for it! I use free LibreOffice Writer software, a development of the original Apache Open Office suite. I find it to be more intuitive to use, though it still has thousands of frankly mystifying features that I don't bother using. I can save a document in MS Word format, for emailing as an attachment when querying literary agents.

I've been looking for an app that counts the number of different words I've used in a novel.
I've just started reading To The Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf—which is set in the Hebrides, but based on the author's memories of holidays in Saint Ives, Cornwall, in a house with a view of Godrevy Lighthouse.

My WIP The Dead Need Nobody begins with the discovery of a corpse washed up on the rocks by Godrevy Island, so I decided to re-read a novel I first enjoyed in the 1970s.

Reading as a writer over the last few years, has opened my eyes to technique, and I was stunned by Woolf's opening, for the first paragraph is a compact single sentence, but the second paragraph contains 257 in four sentences of varying length, though the final one is 105 words!

"Yes, of course, if it's fine tomorrow," said Mrs. Ramsay. "But you'll have to be up with the lark," she added.

To her son these words conveyed an extraordinary joy, as if it were settled, the expedition were bound to take place, and the wonder to which he had looked forward, for years and years it seemed, was, after a night's darkness and a day's sail, within touch. Since he belonged, even at the age of six, to that great clan which cannot keep this feeling separate from that, but must let future prospects, with their joys and sorrows, cloud what is actually at hand, since to such people even in earliest childhood any turn in the wheel of sensation has the power to crystallise and transfix the moment upon which its gloom or radiance rests, James Ramsay, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of the Army and Navy stores, endowed the picture of a refrigerator, as his mother spoke, with heavenly bliss. It was fringed with joy. The wheelbarrow, the lawnmower, the sound of poplar trees, leaves whitening before rain, rooks cawing, brooms knocking, dresses rustling—all these were so coloured and distinguished in his mind that he had already his private code, his secret language, though he appeared the image of stark and uncompromising severity, with his high forehead and his fierce blue eyes, impeccably candid and pure, frowning slightly at the sight of human frailty, so that his mother, watching him guide his scissors neatly round the refrigerator, imagined him all red and ermine on the Bench or directing a stern and momentous enterprise in some crisis of public affairs.

This is untypical of modern writing, and I find myself needing to concentrate more than normal, as I negotiate the extended sentences Virginia Woolf sometimes uses. It says something, when you have to take a deep breath to read a passage out loud.

We're advised by writing experts, to vary the length of our sentences and paragraphs, which Virginia Woolf certainly does, but she also varies chapter length. Chapter 2 is a mere two sentences long:


"No going to the Lighthouse, James," he said, as trying in deference to Mrs. Ramsay to soften his voice into some semblance of geniality at least.

Odious little man, thought Mrs. Ramsay, why go on saying that?

That's it!

Have any of you encountered any long sentences or variations in length of sentences, paragraphs and chapters that made you pause for thought?
@Paul Whybrow, are you familiar with Lucky's speech in Waiting For Godot? Aparently, this particular sentence it is over 700 words long. I normally hate long sentences, but this one I feel is genious. It totally works for the character. But maybe it would be different if Godot was a novel.
H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. Chapter 1. First paragraph. First sentence

No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.

Brilliant! What a hook, and also a brilliant piece of foreshadowing of the eventual demise of the aliens due to those "transient creatures" ie. the bacteria that eventually kills them.
My longest sentence ... well I dunno.....

If I was going to dig out what I think is my longest sentence it's description and it was meant to be very long and I might or might not change it ...
Not open for further replies.

Okay, I'm new, too.

Curious about Litopians