Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Perfect Sentence?

Yesterday, during a quiet moment in 'work', I started reading through  'Improve your Grammar', published by Collins (yup, still trying to improve myself and my writing), and came across the following example of an opening sentence from a slightly popular piece written back in 1719, by a gentleman named Daniel Dafoe.

The story in question is entitled: The Life and Strange and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719).

And now the opening sentence:

I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull: he got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade, lived afterward at York, from whence he married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznoer; but, by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called, nay, we call ourselves, and write our name Crusoe, and so my companions always call me.


The Collins book remarks that "very few novelists today would have the nerve or the skill to begin a novel with a long sentence like that; apart from its length it is also a skillfully wrought passage: clear, supple (I like the thought of a sentence being supple), flowing and ultimately riveting. If it were written today it would most likely appear as a paragraph of several sentences."

How so very true. So what does that say about today's writing and its writers? Are the writings of today now quick fire shots reflecting the way society has developed into a fast and frenetic-paced environment? Or is it because the readers of today get bored easily with rambling prose?

A long-time, close friend of mine was good enough to read my work and give comment. He said of my writing, "You try to describe everything, too much in parts. I like to have some things left to my imagination, for me to fill in, almost like taking a journey of my own."

Granted, I fully understand what he meant, though in my defence my writing style has been born from my years of being a Dungeon Master (no, nothing to do with bondage or S&M, you terrible people!) for the role playing games of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Dragon Warriors, Warhammer FRPG, et al.

Over the 20+ years I took on the mantle of story teller and as such wanted to paint a world that was alive, full of detail and atmosphere and danger. This has now translated over to my writing, for good or ill, only the readers can truly tell.

I feel we - and I now dare include myself in this wondrous grouping - as writers, should try to instill some of the old ways of writing back into the art, and not be afraid of slowing the pace down a notch or two. The old masters still have so much to teach us that is gradually being ignored and forgotten. But then, the whole grammar and syntax of English back in Dafoe's time was a different beast to that which we have become accustomed to today, which in may ways makes me sad.

Texting, the social internet scene and the general decline in how English is taught in schools today has much to answer for. But then, I suppose Shakespeare would have trouble understanding the written word of today in its current incarnation. Without a doubt, language is a subtly evolving life form of its own creation, and I am sure that 100 years from now it will be different from what we know today.

Just don't forget its past, for it still holds a wealth of treasure to be enjoyed and shared, and ultimately learnt from.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, I appreciate your doing so :)


Deborah Walker said...

Go for it, Mark. I like the fact that you're developing your style.

But I don't do it. I love spaces in between words. When I'm world building, I might mention something and make it clear from the context what it is. But I won't actually explain it.

Maybe it's a bit sparse. I have noticed other writers not doing this. In fact I knocked up a bit of literary horror this week where I was more descriptive.

I like experimenting. And one can match voice to story of course.

Mark K said...

Please, don't misconstrue what I'm saying; I've done the short, economic style of writing in those 'five sentence fiction' pieces and found it very empowering and educational, but in longer pieces, especially 'A Matter of the Heart' I went into full-on DM mode and loved it. So I can see where both styles have their place, though I would be more inclined to use the shorter style for horror, I feel, to keep it 'punchy' and the reader on edge when required.

Genres and writing styles are massively important, and I think mixing and experimenting very important as a learning tool, especially as an expressive art form, such as writing, needs it at times, if for nothing more than a means of discovering who you are as a writer.

Deborah Walker said...

*nods* Yes, I agree with you.

Claudia Del Balso said...

WOW! That is some sentence, indeed!
When I first started writing my sentences used to be lengthy, but after taking some writing workshops, I learned that shorter was better. I think when it comes to writing, you can mix long and short sentences, depending on its effect. Now when it comes to texting, I hate it for the mere fact that is making our kids lazy. Sadly, some people write emails the same way they text. It's annoying if you ask me.
Good post, Mark!

Mina Lobo said...

First, the folks of those times didn't have so much to fill their heads. They had more time, more patience, and simply more space in their heads for delightfully wrought sentences such as these.

Second, there were plenty of folks of those times who didn't appreciate the delightfully wrought sentences of the era and instead read the equivalent of pulp or dime-store novels, if they read at all.

Third, by all means, let writers write as they feel, not as they're directed (or think they're being directed)! :-)
Some Dark Romantic