Chop It Off!

Writing Advice: Sentences! Now In Easy-To-Swallow Capsules!

I hate long sentences. I hate having to follow a description that takes a long time to settle down. It feels like being shipwrecked. There I am, floating on someone’s words, not knowing if I am going to starve to death before I reach the end.

Imagine reading a sentence out loud. If you have to come up for air, the sentence is too long.

Unless you’re an asthmatic. Then maybe think two breaths. Three on the safe side. Four or more and you’re hyperventilating. If you are sitting while hyperventilating, stand up quickly. There. That’s how you get high for free.

I’m not saying description (and breathing) is not important. Just break it up! Although I am guilty of it, too. Here is a sample of the new family saga novel that I’m working on. It’s called “The Noble Act Of Taking.”

In this scene, Martha Noble is meeting her long-estranged daughter Thema Noble after fourteen years of absence.

“Good afternoon, Thema,” Marta said, crossing behind the shiny, white wicker chair covered with the bright, yellow and brown, floral patterns that she bought on a lark from the charming little market hidden between the cathedral and the quaint brown and stucco buildings dating from the late 17th century.

Oh, what memories flooded Martha’s head as she passed the potpourri dish filled with fragrant dried roses and petunias, decorated with small pine cones that Marta gathered that night in the forest on that lovely night when Trevor nearly proposed to her underneath the fresh pine forest with the clean brown forest floor crunching from their walking over the dry, dead pine needles in the pale morning sunlight just peeking its fiery orange heat over the breaking teal sky.

How many memories in this yellow room with the french doors open like a question, beckoning the outside English garden to waft its scent through the threshold to touch Martha and Thelma at this one single moment; the moment when after fourteen years they could at last see one another after the terrible arguments that wrecked their relationship and strained the familial bonds that nature gifts to a mother and daughter almost beyond repair. “I see the warts have cleared up.”

I should probably say that this is one of the smaller descriptions in the book. But if Rosamunde Pilcher can get away with that kind of crap, why can’t I?

But if you must, you must! Who am I, after all? Did you come up with an answer? Don’t tell me! I want to keep at least a little mystery between us.

So go ahead and write a huge, discursive description about the exact shade of the fishbowl. Think of it as a test to see if your reader likes you as a person and not for being an entertaining writer.

If long, long, LONG descriptions are your thing, my suggestion is a using a lure. Promise the reader that if they can get through twenty pages of thick, neverending description, there will be a prize waiting at the end. Then at the twentieth page, say that the prize isn’t ready yet, but after another forty pages it should be awaiting them.

With enough guile, you can get a gullible reader to follow the book all the way to the end. The prize at the finish is that they no longer have to read any descriptions! And who is the real winner here? A winner is YOU!