The long and the short of it

“Jesus wept.”

That is the shortest verse in the Bible and one of the most powerful. It has a subject and a verb, and that’s enough.

If this were the only verse you ever read, you would know something about the subject: He was human. He felt things deeply. He cried.

What you wouldn’t know is the context: Where and when was he crying? Were they tears of grief? of sadness? or of joy?

See how effective a simple sentence can be? And if you were to read the powerful text surrounding it, you would gain an even greater understanding of its potency.

That is an example of “the short of it,” but our main focus this time is “the long of it” – the beauty of a long sentence.

As a writer you’ve probably been told that “less is more” or been told to avoid needless words. Sage advice. But a long sentence can be beautiful and can add colour and variety to your writing.

And remember that “long” is not necessarily synonymous with “wordy.”

And it is nigh impossible to write long sentences without employing semicolons and em dashes, at least occasionally, so if you would like more information about these useful-if-not-essential punctuation marks, please e-mail me.

A long sentence, artfully constructed, is like long hair that vibrates with colour and shines with the evidence of good health (envision Rapunzel).

Notice how the previous sentence uses a parenthetical clause, placed between commas, and how it repeats “with” to form parallel construction. A longer sentence lends itself to parallel construction, which in turn lends itself to a certain cadence that is pleasing to the ear.

A longer sentence is not only a rich source of information about its subject or about a character, but it may also reveal a wealth of information about the writer himself (“himself” to be understood in the generic sense of humanity, of course – in its organic sense – and not in any literal sense of the word).

See how the parenthesis above provide yet another way to lengthen a sentence, to add character to it, infuse necessary information in it and to divulge clues as to the writer’s personality?

Precisely. (I’m being somewhat vulnerable here.)

Oh, how I could get carried away here: for I am, in my heart of hearts, a prose writer who secretly yearns to construct longer sentences—long, flowing, descriptive ones that gallop, hooves pounding over cracked earth—and so I am thankful to the editor for his suggestion that I might tackle this subject: the beauty of the long sentence …

Thanks, Darrell.

Now, back to the beginning: See how effective that short sentence is after my verbosity?

Part of the beauty of a long sentence is that it can lend impact to the short sentences that follow. And, in writing, variety is the spice of life.

Make them as serious or as slapstick as you want them to be; as contemplative or as carefree as your heart desires.

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