As many writers know, the long sentence is a literary technique that can often catch and keep a reader’s attention. This is the case for many reasons, including the fact that audiences are often used to reading short and simple sentences that convey information quickly. Long sentences break this pattern by asking readers to pay attention to a complex thought that includes multiple words and concepts. While readers and writers can argue regarding what makes a long sentence “work” or not, I am convinced that word repetition renders the long sentence an effective and interesting enterprise to pursue.
Although there are probably many examples of great long sentences that I could cite, George Sanders’s short story “Puppy” contains one that is particularly intriguing. It appears below:
“Twice already Marie had pointed out the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect field of corn, because the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect field of corn put her in mind of a haunted house-not a haunted house she had ever actually seen but the mythical one that sometimes appeared in her mind (with adjacent graveyard and cat on a fence) whenever she saw the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect etc. etc., and she wanted to make sure that, if the kids had a corresponding mythical haunted house that appeared in their minds whenever they saw the brilliance of the etc. etc., it would come up now, so that they could all experience it together, like friends, like college friends on a road trip, sans pot, ha ha ha!”
I think this long sentence works for several reasons, one of which I will discuss here. In essence, the writer makes effective use of repetition. This fact becomes plain upon consideration of his repeated use of the words “the brilliance of the autumnal sun on the perfect field of corn.” In referencing this concept three times, Sanders ensures that the visual imagery he references becomes very primary in the mind of the reader. This is a particularly effective use of the long sentence because such sentences often find the audience lost in a million different words and concepts. By reemphasizing the same idea repeatedly, the writer ensures that his readers are not overwhelmed with a multitude of concepts. Rather, their minds are trained to focus in on a single idea that Sanders periodically enhances with references to other concepts (like a haunted house or sharing an experience with college friends.)
As made plain by the first paragraph of Sanders’s short story, his long sentence functioned as an excellent and intriguing way to begin his work. This is probably at least part of the reason why writer Richard Thomas listed “Puppy” as one of his top ten favorite short stories ever.
As indicated earlier, the world of writing a long sentence can be complex and difficult. Moreover, judging whether or not a writer’s use of a long sentence is effective or not can be somewhat subjective. Nevertheless, I am thoroughly persuaded that Sanders’s use of repetition was the key to making his stab at the literary form a successful endeavor. Good luck with all of your own efforts in this venue!
Jocelyn Crawley is a 28-year-old college student currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree in preparation to become a pastor. She holds B.A. degrees in English and Religious Studies. Her work has appeared in Jerry Jazz Musician, Nailpolish Stories, Visceral Uterus, Dead Beats, Four and Twenty, and Haggard and Halloo. Other stories are forthcoming in Faces of Feminism, The Idiom, Thrice Fiction and Calliope.
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