What writers and beginning bike riders have in common
I often think of 5-year-olds on bicycles when I read long sentences. Such sentences often seem on the verge of careering out of control. Subordinate clauses jostle each other for attention. Problems of agreement crop up. And the darn verb—well, often it seems to disappear.
I frequently beg writers to avoid these problems by using short sentences. The optimum average length for a sentence appears to be about 14 words. But please note the key word average. This means that some sentences should be shorter, and others, of course, should be longer.
And it’s these longer sentences that will often give you the most trouble. Unless….unless… you know one simple but very effective trick:
It matters where you put your verbs
When you’re writing a long sentence, be sure to keep your subject and your verb close together, and close as possible to the beginning of the sentence. (If your grammar is a little dusty, all you need to know is that the subject is the main “actor” in the sentence and the verb is the main action or “doing” word.)
But let me make things even clearer with some examples. The first is from Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet: