This is by Pico Iyer, courtesy of "The Passive Voice" and offered here merely for consideration that writing comes in many forms and with many aims:



"No writer can compete, for speed and urgency, with texts or CNN news flashes or RSS feeds, but any writer can try to give us the depth, the nuances — the “gaps,” as Annie Dillard calls them — that don’t show up on many screens. Not everyone wants to be reduced to a sound bite or a bumper sticker.

Enter (I hope) the long sentence: the collection of clauses that is so many-chambered and lavish and abundant in tones and suggestions, that has so much room for near-contradiction and ambiguity and those places in memory or imagination that can’t be simplified, or put into easy words, that it allows the reader to keep many things in her head and heart at the same time, and to descend, as by a spiral staircase, deeper into herself and those things that won’t be squeezed into an either/or. With each clause, we’re taken further and further from trite conclusions — or that at least is the hope — and away from reductionism, as if the writer were a dentist, saying “Open wider” so that he can probe the tender, neglected spaces in the reader (though in this case it’s not the mouth that he’s attending to but the mind)."

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I wouldn't say that writing economically necessarily equates to dumbing down.


I'm pretty sure I wouldn't, either.  In fact, I didn't.  But I like dashes and commas and semi-colons just fine, if the sentence calls for them.  And here's Chandler, opening The Big Sleep with some long-ish sentences, and four paragraphs of description, at which he was inordinately good.  So much for the rules.

It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn't care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

The main hallway of the Sternwood Place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him.

There were French doors at the back of the hall, beyond them a wide sweep of emerald grass to a white garage, in front of which a slim dark young chauffeur in shiny black leggings was dusting a maroon Packard convertible. Beyond the garage were some decorative trees trimmed as carefully as poodle dogs. Beyond them a large greenhouse with a domed roof. Then more trees and beyond everything the solid, uneven, comfortable line of the foothills.

On the east side of the hall, a free staircase, tile-paved, rose to a gallery with a wrought-iron railing and another piece of stained-glass romance. Large hard chairs with rounded red plush seats were backed into the vacant spaces of the wall round about. They didn't look as if anybody had ever sat in them. In the middle of the west wall there was a big empty fireplace with a brass screen in four hinged panels, and over the fireplace a marble mantel with cupids at the corners. Above the mantel there was a large oil portrait, and above the portrait two bullet-torn or moth-eaten cavalry pennants crossed in a glass frame. The portrait was a stiffly posed job of an officer in full regimentals of about the time of the Mexican war. The officer had a neat black imperial, black moustachios, hot hard coal-black eyes, and the general look of a man it would pay to get along with. I thought this might be General Sternwood's grandfather. It could hardly be the General himself, even though I had heard he was pretty far gone in years to have a couple of daughters still in the dangerous twenties.

But not merely description. Every word is deliberate. Nothing is wasted. The voice grabs us right away, and in every line we see a character emerging. And there's an underlying tension throughout. It's brilliant. Far removed from any sort of ordinary descriptive passage, some so bogged down with detail they invite skimming.

The nice thing about the internet is that you can always have it both ways, just by moving the goalposts a little.  But then there's this long, reflective passage on blondes, from The Long Goodbye.  It's completely unnecessary to the story, it goes to character but probably doesn't tell us much about Marlowe that we don't already know, and it has a bunch of long-ass sentences in it that I, having a medical condition, could not hope to say in one breath.  Leonard would probably cut it.  It's just Chandler showing off, but it's brilliant--maybe the best passage in the book.    

There are blondes and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays. All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blond as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blond who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very very tired when you take her home. She makes that helpless gesture and has that goddamned headache and you would like to slug her except that you are glad you found out about the headache before you invested too much time and money and hope in her. Because the headache will always be there, a weapon that never wears out and is as deadly as the bravo's rapier or Lucrezia's poison vial.

There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn't care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pal and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a  truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde* with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can't lay a finger on her because in the first place you don't want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provençal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.

And lastly there is the gorgeous show piece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap d'Antibes, an Alfa-Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent-mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.

The dream across the way was none of these, not even of that kind of world. She was unclassifiable, as remote and clear as mountain water, as elusive as its color.

He forgot about book-buying blonde, who was busy choosing a title that didn't insult her.

I don't see much good about this. Difference of opinion I guess. If I were to teach a creative writing course, I would use this as an example of what not to do. If you want to get published.

Maybe I'm just a Chandler fan, but I love this. Yes he is showing off a little, showing us his chops, trying to sound like a writer (which is what Jude maybe hears and doesn't like). It's okay. He IS a freaking writer. Go for it Ray!

I liked it too. But then again I like blondes.

If nothing else, passages like this are interesting from a historical perspective, illustrating the prevailing attitude toward women at the time.

Well,  that I would have to agree with!  Back when it was sort of OK to "slug" a dame. 

This is turning into a pretty interesting discussion, though! 

Personally I'd like to see more of these on Crime Space. Livens things up!

She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can't lay a finger on her because in the first place you don't want to and in the second place she is readingThe Waste Land or Dante in the original 


And she likes long sentences, no doubt.

This sounds like Chandler being just a WEE BIT  anti-intellectual!  So reading The Waste Land makes a woman un-sexy?  Or Dante? Or Kafka?  Or adoring music?  Oh, Raymond, Raymond!  You ARE dating yourself---don't need a powder blue suit to do it! 

So would it be OK for a brunette to like all those things?  I am not and have never been either shadowy or languid!  :)  


Frankly, the powder-blue suit is an instant turn-off, and it casts the entire passage into a weird light because it is seen through the eyes of a guy in a powder-blue suit.

I daresay it has to do with the time and the milieu.

Aw, geez, now I'm going to have to burn another suit ...

You are funny, I.J.  The book was written in 1939.  It's set in Los Angeles.  Marlowe's outfit would've been considered pretty snappy, given the time and place. 


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