One of the tips that literary agents and writing gurus tend to repeat is keep your sentences short and snappy. Or, as editor Cate Baum says in her blog post Eight Most Common Editing Errors In Self-Published Books, break up those “long-ass sentences.”
We’re writers. We love words; it goes with the trade. Not only do we love words, but we love to arrange words, too. And rearrange them. And turn those words into sentences and even paragraphs worthy of literary worship.
Unfortunately, the result is often the classic, run-on sentence.
The danger of the long-ass sentence
Everyone knows that run-on sentences are a big no-no. At least theoretically. Yet so many novice writers do it. Comma after comma separates thoughts and ideas which should be effectively ended with periods and semicolons.
Apart from being grammatically incorrect, long-ass sentences are also hard on your readers. It means they need to work in order to read your story. And making them work at reading is counterproductive to what you want for them: to escape into your story and actually live it.
Here is an example of a run-on-sentence from a fiction novel that has actually been published:
I look back toward my brother, waiting for the popping [of Pop Rocks] to stop in my mouth so I could give him some attitude about the shitty look on his face when my world suddenly stopped turning, it stuttered for a few seconds, then restarted, erratically matching the rhythm of the candy exploding inside me but when I swallowed, the explosions didn’t stop, they went down into my chest and on into my stomach, settling uncomfortably down low in my belly, for some reason the sensation was causing my brain to cease its connection to my mouth, leaving me devoid of speech.
Hard to read, huh?
Now, compare that to my edited version, with much shorter sentences:
I was about to give my brother attitude for the shitty look he had on his face, when my world suddenly stopped turning. It stuttered for a few seconds, then restarted. My heart thumped erratically, matching the rhythm of the candy exploding inside my mouth. But when I swallowed, the explosions didn’t stop. They went down into my chest and settled uncomfortably low in my belly. For some reason the sensation was causing my brain to cease its connection to my mouth. I was left utterly devoid of speech.
KISS: Keep It Short And Snappy
The key to writing fiction that pulls people into your story is to write sentences that move. Whether your literary sensibility likes it or not, short, snappy sentences move. Each thought should be separated by a period or a semicolon, not a comma.
By writing paragraphs that are composed of five or six succinct, individual sentences, you won’t be asking your reader to work at reading. And when they don’t have to work, it’s easier for them to enjoy your story.
That is, after all, why you write. Isn’t it?