Can I take a moment to rant about long, convoluted* sentences? Nothing makes me exit a story faster than seeing sentences that can't control themselves.
A foreword: they say the first rule of writing is that there are no rules. But with any craft, I like to think there are principles. Principles that explain, for example, why I can't use eye-blistering mosaic filters in my graphics. Or why I can't write a function called myFunction() that accepts five arguments and performs fifteen operations. Or, why I can't draw characters with faces that are three-quarters forehead, while claiming it's my style.
Why can't I write a sentence detailing the mental state of every character in the room?
Long, convoluted sentences often are a product of not knowing what's important--and probably, thinking that everything is important. Now the latter is technically true: you should consider every word in a sentence. But not all word classes are born equal, and not all parts of a sentence carry equal weight.
- The most important words are the verbs and nouns**. Most others are glue. A sentence with weak verbs and nouns is like a trip between a used sandwich wrapper and a wet noodle. Slathering on more glue, or tossing in a banana peel isn't the solution.
- The most important information should be placed at the beginning and the end, ie. applying the serial-position effect
. For a sentence, usually the choice is an aforementioned verb or noun. That said, the problem with ending in a preposition isn't because it's grammatically incorrect (who cares?), but because it's weak.
- Commas, em-dashes, etc. can break sentences into portions that are easier to parse.
Punctuation is like magic when it comes to readability: not enough people believe in it.
Some deadly devices in convoluted sentences:
- Good old comma splice, I do it all the time.
- Conjunctions. If combining two concepts 'A and B', they better be related. You can tell I'm serious, because I clicked italics and bold. Similarly, "while," "but," and the like--they better be legitimate comparisons or contrasts. And if they are related and legitimate, they better not be doing the job of a properly formatted paragraph.
Every so often, I see "and" tacked on a sentence, so it can plough on about something barely related, if at all. No, no, stop!
- Concurrent events. Check this bad boy out:
Frederick swallowed and his gaze flickers to Chrom as he sits frozen, stiff with his stomach clenched as it tried to squirm itself free inside him.
Gaze flickering -> sitting frozen -> stomach clenching -> stomach squirming
Holy moly! Two pairs of concurrent actions in a sentence. Even one can be too many. Let's painstakingly lay this out: a sentence is a series of words. A series is linear. For the most part, readers parse sentences linearly, ie. one event after another. Concurrent actions will then fail to be concurrent when parsed. You can imagine why it's fake news to claim that four things are happening at the same time.
Can you tell who the latter "he/his/him" are referring to? Because I can't. Also, what the heck is this person's stomach even doing? There are so many things wrong with this sentence... Makes me want to add more advice, like say what you mean.
*Long: more than 20-25 words. Convoluted: more than one idea. Mix 'em up for maximum disaster. Did I say something before about long sentences and Blizzard finalists? That story was about insanity. You may have insane punctuation if your story is insane.
**Verb and noun selection is an entire rant of its own. Maybe another time.