Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
I like a good ellipsis . . . but perhaps a 167 of them in a work that is (so far) sixteen thousand words long is a bit much . . .
And then there’s commas, 759.
Semicolons; 2? Only Two?
Double paragraphs for blank line. 36.
Scene breaks *** 12.
Without these little nuisances all our beautiful words would just run together into an unintelligible wall of words. We need breaks, but where do you put them?
The point of all this nonsense is to improve readability.
The most carefully crafted sentence in the history of writing, that says exactly what you mean it to say, is helpless roadkill as the fast reader flashes past it . . . screeches to a halt and goes back and carefully parses out the actual meaning of the beautiful sentence. Then (hopefully) re-immerses in the story, relieved that her first take on the sentence was completely backwards.
Breaking up long sentences into a few easier to chew bits can aid reader comprehension. Darn it!
Beware the Great Wall of Words!
Breaking up large paragraphs is also a good idea. Fast readers tend to grab the first and last sentences as they blow through.
Commas can make a big difference. And drive your copyeditors crazy (pity mine!) trying to get you to put them in right places, and not put them in the wrong ones.
Setting off sentence fragments with Em dashes, parentheses, ellipses and so forth can clarify meanings, jog the reader’s memory without breaking the immersion.
Ellipses can also evoke a feeling of being in the character’s head as he pauses to think . . . to realize . . . and his thoughts jump ahead to an important conclusion.
In dialog you can introduce natural pauses in the flow of speech, and it rarely hurts to break up dialog with some stage setting or a physical reaction inside a speech to let the reader know how the character is thinking and feeling while speaking. Just don’t do so much that it breaks up the flow of dialog.
But the various ways to break things up can not just make a story more readable, they can contribute to the emotional impact of the whole passage.
This is not to say that you should write in simple sentences. But don’t be obscure, and don’t make your reader’s eyes glaze over as they try to dig through a wall of text.
But play around with various things. How does it look? Does it give your character an appearance of hesitation, uncertainty, or decisiveness? And was that what you wanted the reader to get from it?
And how about pacing? Does it slow it down or speed it up? And was that what you wanted?
This is an example where I was attempting to imply that things were happening, and still ongoing when the next thing started happening.
I’ll sleep on it, run it by the Beta Readers, see what they say. It may well join a pile of stylistic, pretentious nonsense in my mental round file.
But if you don’t try, you won’t succeed.
Check something of your own (my early stories are scary!) and see what you can do to them breaking up long paragraphs, sentences, runs of dialog.
Be not afraid! Experiment. Let it flow.
And if you’re looking for something to read: