Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Death to Sentences?

Yesterday I picked up a book to read that I bought in a yard sale. (In Australia normally called a garage sale) Published in 1984.

I read the author's note. Quite interesting. Studied the diagram of the ship, quite interesting. Started reading.

About halfway down paragraph one I had to stop to catch my breath. I looked for the punctuation to tell me the end of the sentence. None.  And not until the end of the paragraph?

As a first sentence, even a first paragraph did it grab me?
Couldn't make head or tails out of it. It goes on and on and on. In fact, I stopped to count the words. 

One hundred and forty five words in the sentence, and the first sentence of the book at that! Am I reading that book? No way Hozay. 

While in my apprenticeship of learning to write, I was advised to use no more than fifteen words in a sentence. Certainly the first sentence. I recommend that number when I review other people's work. 

I always wonder whether in the good old publishing eighties, publishers used to think an author would know their job by the time they'd been published half a dozen times. A couple of times I have come across books that seem like first drafts. The quality of the writing does not improve. There are dozens of things in it that aspiring authors are warned never to have appearing in their manuscripts. 

I don't recall people thinking this was pulp fiction. I do recall people raving about these novels, how good they were. At the time I was reading Alexander Kent's nautical war series. I found them as satisfying as reading science fiction as, for an out and out land lubber like me, they needed the same kind of strategies to get meaning. For example, put your curiosity on hold, you will learn/understand what something/jargon/seagoing term mean in the goodness of time. 

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