“Walking into the stadium with a taped-up ankle and limping slightly, due to an injury during practice the previous week, and with a look of concern and worry on his face, which then was followed with a look of awe and wonder, my tall, good-looking, muscular, 23-year-old grandson, Samuel Thomas Brennan, with his head down and his eyes looking at his feet, noticing first the old, hard-surfaced, worn-looking artificial turf of the football field, his mind calculating how much it would hurt to fall or slide across that uneven surface, but then raising his head when hearing the audience’s cheers, and glancing up and seeing the huge dome high above him, he realized his dream was coming true, a dream of playing in Pontiac’s famed Silverdome Stadium, where Barry Sanders, one of the greatest running backs of all time played, and where he, as a rookie on the newly formed, professional Ultimate Frisbee team, called the Detroit Mechanix, was about to challenge the Buffalo Hunters from Buffalo, New York.”
Moving to the other end of the Tweeting skills spectrum, Doreen Campbell, my mother-in-law, at age 74 is taking a home lecture series titled “Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft.” Her teacher, Professor Brooks Landon from the University of Iowa, encourages his students to practice building a sentence using what he calls “cumulative syntax.”
Instead of getting one’s thought into a 140 character tweet, Doreen’s homework assignment went to the other end of the spectrum: write a sentence using 100 or more words. Always making sure she completes what is assigned, Doreen composed the 169-word sentence above. I asked her what she had learned about writing a sentence using Landon’s framework.
She sent me her three rules:
1) Notice and study the “great sentences” that you liked and would enjoy reading again, especially in books by great authors like Hemingway and Faulkner.
2) Practice writing sentences of 100 words or more using cumulative syntax.
3) Use variety in sentence construction and sentence length when writing. When writing longer sentences, don’t overdo it and reach the point of diminishing returns. You want the reader to derive pleasure from your sentences, not become frustrated while trying to follow their meaning.
My father-in-law, ever the one to find a pragmatic answer, quickly added his two rules of the road that he thinks every writer should keep in mind.
1) Start with a capital letter.
2) End with a period.
I am struck by the contrast of today’s shorthand writing with the use of a long sentence. Whether one agrees with the advice isn’t the point. Like most things in life, we don’t need purely all 140 character tweets or 100 word sentences to fill our ways to communicate. The next time you get an itch to share an idea, try both ways. Write a 140 character tweet and write a 100 word sentence. My guess, like Doreen, we might learn a few ‘rules of the road’ that will help us to communicate.
P.S. I took my Mother-in-laws advice and began to study Hemingway more closely. On one page in Farewell to Arms, he has a 99 word sentence along with a three word sentence (twelve characters). He must have known Doreen’s rule number 3: use variety!