As writers, we are beaten over the head by school teachers, professors, authors` blogs, and writing advice books about sentence structure and length. We`re told that readers can`t follow complex sentences and that we should keep sentences to a length of about 8-20 words. While I agree that we as a society have become impatient as a cultural norm and that we like to “get to the point,” I don`t think people—especially avid readers—are stupid. I think we have a ton of bad writing floating around on the web and in books—both self-published and otherwise. Let`s explore my theory.
Here is a very long and complex sentence, 162 words to be exact, that is well written:
My apologies to Richard Lederer, author of Anguished English for the following:
Bloated writing tends to be extremely redundant or superfluous, unneeded, unnecessary, outdated and outmoded, disused or un-called for; in other words, it is writing using words, phrases, and ideas that do not necessarily help to develop or in any way, shape, form or convey the idea of the story, news report, recipe, article, blog or report that you are creating, writing or thinking about doing, regardless of how much you believe that these additional and extra words, phrases and explanations contained within a single sentence, paragraph or entire article will add value, meaning and a more complete, entertaining, informative reading experience for your readers, not to mention, the added benefit of words that will enhance, improve, augment, and boost the ability of a search engine to find your overly wordy article due to the fact that you have included the additional tags or keywords that you incorporated, fitted into or integrated meaningfully, purposefully, tenaciously and decisively in your sentence, paragraph or article.
~Marilyn Davis, 2015~
My question to the readers out there is this:
Can you tell me why this sentence, which is obviously demonstrative in nature, is well written and doesn`t lose the reader? The answer is twofold. It is because the writer does not confuse the reader. In spite of the many adjectives, punctuations, and relative clauses, the antecedent or the original subject is still clear. Throughout the sentence, the reader is able to stay focused on the subject, and with each new phrase or clause added to the sentence the antecedent is not compromised or lost in the prose. This sentence uses good punctuation, pronouns, and reflexive pronouns. Yes, I`m sure some grammarians out there would beg to differ as we all know the many theories of grammar that exist; however, I think this sentence makes the point: readers are not stupid and we don`t have to write short sentences to reach them. We have to write well.
My intention is not to argue styles of prose. We all know that some writers use the Oxford Comma rule and some don`t, among other stylistic choices. I`m also not suggesting that we should always write 162-word sentences. If you study some of the great writers of the past like Tolkien or C.S. Lewis (these two came to mind in particular) you will see long and complex sentences throughout their works. The point here is that if we use good sentence structures and link our more complex sentences well, in terms of the antecedent, pronouns, and reflexive pronouns, we won`t lose our reader in the mix.