Essaying In A Sentence

“No book worth its salt is meant to put you to sleep,” says the garrulous shoemaker who narrates the Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal’s “Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age” (1964), “it’s meant to make you jump out of bed in your underwear and run and beat the author’s brains out.” Thirty-three pages into what appears to be an unbroken highway of text, the reader might well wonder if that’s a mission statement or an invitation. “Dancing Lessons” unfurls as a single, sometimes maddening sentence that ends after 117 pages without a period, giving the impression that the opinionated, randy old cobbler will go on jawing ad infinitum. But the gambit works. His exuberant ramblings gain a propulsion that would be lost if the comma splices were curbed, the phrases divided into sentences. And there’s something about that slab of wordage that carries the eye forward, promising an intensity simply unattainable by your regularly punctuated novel.

Hrabal wasn’t the first to attempt the Very Long Sentence. The Polish novelist Jerzy Andrzejewski went even longer in “The Gates of Paradise” (1960), weaving several voices into a lurid and majestic 158-page run-on. (The novel actually consists of two sentences, the final one a mere five words long.) An old priest listens to the contradictory confessions of some apparently holy but actually just horny French teenagers marching toward Jerusalem in the 13th-century Children’s Crusade. A profusion of colons and dashes helps toggle among the multiple points of view, while repeated descriptions of crummy weather give the brain some breathing space. Every mention of the “long and arduous road” seems to comment on the enduring nature of the sentence itself. The descriptions of sex — e.g., “That’s why when we do it we can keep it going so long” — also gain a double meaning.

For a long time, Hrabal and Andrzejewski were the only practitioners of the sentence-long book I could find. Not many writers have had the nerve to go this route: you’re locked in, committed to a rhythm and a certain claustrophobia. But might the format also be liberating? Joan Didion told The Paris Review in 1978: “What’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.” Sticking to just one sentence, ironically, might keep your options perpetually open.

The most famous mega-sentence in literature comes at the end of the book, not the beginning. Molly Bloom’s monologue from “Ulysses” (1922) —36 pages in the thinly margined, micro-fonted 1986 single-volume corrected text (and actually two long sentences, thanks to an often-overlooked period 17 pages in) — sets an impossibly high standard for the art of the run-on. It breathlessly binds together all that comes before while nearly obliterating it, permanently coloring the reader’s memory in one final rush. It feels unstoppable, and then it stops.

Molly’s soliloquy is a touchstone for writers aiming to go long. A copy of “Ulysses” pops up in “Green Coaster,” the 33-page, single-sentence section that closes Jonathan Coe’s brilliant novel “The Rotters’ Club” (2001). (The BBC has reported that at 13,955 words, it is the longest sentence ever written in English.)

Joyce also makes a cameo in the most recent candidate for the absurdly exclusive Book-as-Sentence club, the French novelist Mathias Énard’s “Zone” (2008), just published in an English translation. At 517 pages, it’s far longer than the Hrabal and Andrzejewski combined, though its status as a true single sentence is compromised by 23 chapter breaks that alleviate eye strain. (If “Zone” qualifies, what about Samuel Beckett’s 147-page “How It Is” (1961), with its paragraphic chunks but complete absence of periods?) A bigger disqualification for Énard’s book, about a train journey, is that three of the chapters are passages from a book the narrator is reading — a mediocre short story ripe with periods. If only he’d packed some Hrabal.

Continue reading the main story

It can sometimes be difficult to start a sentence to express ideas, or find words to show the relationship between ideas. Below is a list of possible sentence starters, transitional and other words that may be useful.

To introduce

This essay discusses …

… is explored …

… is defined …

The definition of … will be given

… is briefly outlined …

… is explored …

The issue focused on ….

… is demonstrated ...

… is included …

In this essay …..

… is explained …

… are identified …

The key aspect discussed …

… are presented …

… is justified …

Views on …. range from ….

… is evaluated …

… is examined …

The central theme …

… is described …

… is analysed …

Emphasised are …

… is explained and illustrated with examples …

 

To conclude

In summary, …

To review, …

In conclusion, …

In brief, …

To summarise, …

To sum up, …

To conclude, …

Thus, …

Hence, …

It has been shown that, …

In short, …

 

To compare and contrast

Similarly, …

In the same way …

Likewise, …

In comparison …

Complementary to this …

Then again, …

However, …

This is in contrast to …

In contrast, …

And yet …

Nevertheless, …

Conversely, …

On the contrary, …

On the other hand, …

Notwithstanding …

Whereas …

In contrast to …

That aside, ...

While this is the case …

... disputes …

Despite this, ...

To add ideas

Also, …

Equally important ...

Subsequently, …

Futhermore, …

Moreover, …

As well as ....

Next…

Another essential point…

Additionally, ...

More importantly, …

In the same way …

Another ...

Then, …

In addition, …

Besides, ...

Then again, …

Firstly, ... secondly, ... thirdly, ... finally, ...

To elaborate, ...

To present uncommon or rare ideas

Seldom ...

Few ...

Not many ...

A few ...

... is uncommon

... is scarce ...

Rarely ...

... is rare ...

... is unusual ...

To present common or widespread ideas

Numerous ...

Many ...

More than ...

Several ...

Almost all ...

The majority ...

Most ...

Commonly ...

Significant ...

... is prevalent ...

... is usual ...

Usually ...

To present inconclusive ideas

Perhaps ...

... may be ...

... might be ...

There is limited evidence for ...

... is debated ...

... is possibly ...

... could ...

... may include ...

 

To give examples

For example, ...

... as can be seen in ...

... supports ...

An illustration of ...

... as demonstrated by ...

... is observed ...

Specifically, ...

... is shown ...

... exemplifies ...

Such as ...

As an example ...

To illustrate, ...

For instance, ...

 

 

To show relationships or outcome

Therefore ...

As a result ...

For that reason ...

Hence, ...

Otherwise, ...

Consequently, ...

The evidence suggests/shows ...

It can be seen that ...

With regard to ...

After examining ....

These factors contribute to ...

It is apparent that ...

Considering ... it can be concluded that ...

Subsequently, ....

The effect is ...

The outcome is ...

The result ...

The correlation ...

The relationship ...

The link ...

The convergence ...

The connection ...

... interacts with ...

Both ....

... affects ...

Thus it is ...

... causes ...

... influences ...

... predicts ...

... leads to ...

... informs ...

... presupposes

... emphasises

... demonstrates ...

... impacts on ...

... supports ...

To present prior or background ideas

In the past, ...

Historically, ...

Traditionally, ...

Customarily, ...

Beforehand, ...

Originally, ...

Prior to this, ...

Earlier, ...

Formerly, ...

Previously, ...

Over time, ...

At the time of ...

Conventionally, ...

Foundational to this is ...

In earlier ...

Initially, ...

At first, ...

Recently ...

Until now, ...

The traditional interpretation ...

 

To present others' ideas

According to …

Based on the findings of ... it can be argued...

… proposed that …

As explained by …

… states that …

… claims that …

However, ... stated that …

... suggested …

… concluded that …

Similarly, … stated that ….

… for example, …

… agreed that …

Based on the ideas of …

… defined …. as ….

… relates …

As identified by …

… disputed that …

… contrasts …

With regard to … argued that …

… concluded that …

… confirmed that …

... argues ….

… highlights …

… demonstrates …

… found that …

… identifies …

... wrote that …

… demonstrated …

… also …

… reported ….

… pointed out that …

… maintained that …

… hypothesised that …

… expressed the opinion that …

... also mentioned ….

... asserts that ….

… identified …

… goes on to state/suggest/say

… emphasises

… challenges the idea ….

… showed that …

… explored the idea …

 

Adapted from the following source

Manalo. E., Wont_Toi, G., & Bartlett-Trafford, J. (2009). The business of writing: Written communication skills for business students (3rd ed.). Auckland: Pearson Education New Zealand.

 

Updated August 22, 2012

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