I became a proponent of the long sentence under the tutelage of Professor Brooks Landon of the University of Iowa. OK, so it was through a course on CD from The Teaching Company. Nonetheless, I also happen to have enjoyed many long sentences throughout my reading life. So why is this an issue for me?
It came up in a writing critique group quite a while back. Many of my sentences are longer than those of others, and one member of our group said, “You are only allowed one fifteen word sentence per chapter.” Like, that is the longest a sentence could be, and, like, you are only allowed one. Per chapter.
So I asked a publishing professional what he thought. He thought he might use this as a topic for his blog some time in the future, but in the meantime he wrote, “I'll offer my short answer to you privately: Nonsense.”
What counts is not brevity, but clarity, and a well-turned sentence that provides clarity of expression and beauty of rhythm is far more effective and enjoyable for both reader and writer alike, no matter what the length.
Thirty-eight words, that one. Was it clear?
This was again brought home to me recently when I discovered comments by Roy Peter Clark on Poynter. Of the following (beautiful!) long sentence, he says, “Great writers fear not the long sentence, and here is proof. If a short sentence speaks a gospel truth, then a long one takes us on a kind of journey.”
This private estate was far enough away from the explosion so that its bamboos, pines, laurel, and maples were still alive, and the green place invited refugees—partly because they believed that if the Americans came back, they would bomb only buildings; partly because the foliage seemed a center of coolness and life, and the estate’s exquisitely precise rock gardens, with their quiet pools and arching bridges, were very Japanese, normal, secure; and also partly (according to some who were there) because of an irresistible, atavistic urge to hide under leaves.
—John Hersey, “Hiroshima”