You can win the battle of the run-on!

writing telescopic sentences

Telescopic sentences present an opportunity for writers to transform simple scenes with detail and description.

Last time we talked about Gary Hoffman’s Writeful, we explored the art of the railroad ramble.  Once you’ve mastered combining different thoughts into one long sentence, it’s time to elaborate on one simple idea using what Hoffman calls “Telescoping Sentences.”

The first step is to pick a topic like “the dog is sick” or “the boss is angry”, and take it to the next level by zooming in and looking closer at it, noting even the smallest details.  You may find it helpful to ask questions you go: What type of dog? What kind of boss?  Then go even deeper: In what way is the dog sick?  How can you tell the boss is angry?

“[Telescoping sentences] are enjoyable because they force a writer to look even closer, or consider even more details than the writer intended when first looking at reality and on first creating the sentence,” explains Hoffman.

To be honest; I had a hard time with this exercise.  An itinerate rambler; I’ve never met a comma I didn’t like.  Run-on sentences are the bane of my “writerly” existence, and even out in the real world (living “off the page” so to speak) I can tell a story without taking a breath, let alone leaving space for a period.

I also feared adding simple sentences would only exacerbate my wordiness, but Hoffman assures his reader that “as with railroad-ramble, telescoping sentences smooth the flow: they keep details that belong together close together in one sentence.

I’m all for a smooth, easy reading experience.  I’m also a great believer is doing the thing you resist – it builds character and takes you to unexpected places.  I also made a deal with myself to try one new thing every day in the new year.

And so…I tackled the telescopic sentences…

Here’s how it works:

  1. Write a simple sentence – like the sick dog or angry boss mentioned above.  I chose – “My London postcard has punk rockers on the front.”
  2.  Instead of leaving your sentence unadorned, pull out that period, add a comma, and go deeper with the idea.“The comma must be thought of as a quick turn of a telescopic camera lens that immediately zooms the writer up closer to the material of the original sentence,” explains Hoffman.  “The writer can zoom up on any part of the ‘picture’ that is already framed by the original sentence.”

“My London postcard has punk rockers on the front, three of them on the stairway.”

But I was suspicious of those three punk rockers on the stairway…by adding them, had I just committed the crime of the dreaded run-on?

“The major problem with telescoping sentences is that, if the zoomed focuses are described with complete verbs, there is a danger of creating run-ons,” admits Hoffman.

“To avoid this problem, he advises, “make sure only one part of the sentence has a complete verb.”

One way to test this is to pull out your add-ons and see if they can be sentences on their own – if they can, then you’ve got yourself a run-on.

Here’s my final product – not perfect, but it’s certainly got me looking at my sentences differently.


Punkers Glare

My postcard shows three punk rockers standing on the stairway of London’s Piccadilly Line, around them street life bustles, Barclays Bank stock-ticker commenting quietly in the background. One has his back to the photographer, slouching insolently in his spiked leather jacket with “Destroy Authority” embroidered above a skull and crossbones.  The female punk stares directly at the camera, half-closed eyes lined with black kohl, fishnets torn, knee bent showing off heeled ankle boots.  The third punk rocker stares at his female companion, his red Mohawk a good three inches tall, his jacket pockmarked with buttons and chains, studded belt wrapped tight around his torso.

This post was originally published February 12, 2012.

5 thoughts on “You can win the battle of the run-on!

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