After a writer painstakingly crafts his work with sentences that best exhibit the notions that crept from his or her mind, the next step is to go back and reevaluate them. The obvious reason for this is the hunting down of any typos or mistakes—both grammatical and plot-related—that are apparently unavoidable no matter how practiced or experienced you are. But this also is the time when certain sentences may come off sounding awkward and in need of reworking.
One of the things I have to watch for is sentence length. I do not like simple sentences. (Except, apparently, to make a grand statement like the previous one.) Compound sentences, complex sentences, compound-complex sentences… These are the types I prefer, and I frankly don’t see the reason for writing an adult-targeted story as if it were written for grade-school students who are just learning to read.
Say it simply. Why? So it can sound dull? Are we really encouraging writers to simplify their text just so less-learned readers can avoid the experience of having to look up and learn a new word? What would be terrible about that? In high school I went through a period where I started riddling my speech with “fifty-cent words” (perhaps a result of all my late night reading). When this of course did not go over well, I did a complete one-eighty in college just to fit in better. But in my writing… there I stayed true to my nature.
It is no surprise that writing teachers would occasionally comment on my long sentences. They were grammatically correct—in fact, I think one of the joys I take from writing in this way comes from composing a perfect sentence that links all my related thoughts together in an interesting manner while remaining 100% accurate from a grammatical standpoint. But even I will admit when a sentence gets away from me and is in need of reshaping. I just object to the notion of simplifying for no reason, when the sentence successfully does its job and conveys my idea flawlessly but is simply longer than the average reader is used to.
I never emulated Hemingway. Known for simple sentences, his writing style is exemplified in classrooms as the ideal to strive for. (I am only learning now that his style changed depending on the particular book, and that he even crafted a sentence that was well over four hundred words!) It has also been argued that it wasn’t his sentences that were simple as much as his choice of wording. That’s even worse! Could you imagine how dull it would be if we were to go through life only hearing and using the same boring words?
Well guess what; it’s already been imagined. In George Orwell’s 1984, which I am currently halfway through reading for the very first time, Big Brother’s society uses a technique whereby the language is being eroded away so that all concepts are represented by a few simple words. This is done in accordance with a belief that eliminating certain words altogether from a language will eliminate the possibility that its members will even be able to conceive of the notions behind them. If there are no words to convey the concepts of freedom or rebellion, how can one consider them?
I don’t know if there have ever been any studies to justify this idea—or how one could even be accomplished!—but it still stands as one of the elements in the novel that one would want to avoid in real life. What a colorless world we would live in if our speech—and more so our reading material—were dumbed down to the point of lacking any interest altogether. The story alone cannot cut it; even the most engaging tale requires flavor to bring it to life.
Which brings me back to the editing process, and the tightrope we walk when trying to conform to certain accepted notions of how a sentence should be while still allowing our personal flair to show through. It is perhaps the least pleasurable part of the writing process for an author, but it is also one of the most important steps, as how your narrative sounds to the reader’s ear may win or lose your audience. Is it any wonder that this topic weighs heavily on my mind?