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Sentential Hypertrophy: Inflating Your Sentences to Ludicrous Lengths

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John August, possibly my favorite blogger, pointed to this amazing set of instructions by James Tanner for turning any normal sentence into a David Foster Wallace super-sentence.

I know we have some real DFW fans in the PopTen house, so I’d love for you to take a stab at it in the comments section.

Here’s John August’s sentence getting inflated:

Following Tanner’s instruction, we start with a simple 10-word sentence:

John wanted to play ball, but he sat on the couch.

1. Use them in a compound sentence:

John said he wanted to play ball, but instead he sat on the couch and played videogames.

2. Add rhythm with a dependent clause:

When asked by his sister, John said he wanted to play ball, but instead he sat on the couch and played videogames.

3. Elaborate using a complete sentence as interrupting modifier:

When asked by his sister, John said he wanted to play ball — he told her where to find his mitt — but instead he sat on the couch and played videogames.

(More after the jump…)

4. Append an absolute construction or two:

When asked by his sister, John said he wanted to play ball — he told her where to find his mitt — but instead he sat on the couch and played videogames, his left foot resting on the ottoman, toes flexing at the most perilous virtual encounters.

5. Paralell-o-rize your structure (turn one noun into two):

When asked by his sister, John said he wanted to play ball — he told her where to find his mitt and shoes — but instead he sat on the couch and played videogames, his left foot resting on the ottoman, calf and toes flexing at the most perilous virtual encounters.

6. Adjectival phrases: lots of them. (Note: apprx. 50% will include the word ‘little’):

When asked by his little sister, a ginger-haired cherub with little butterflies on her jean shorts, John said he wanted to play some ball — he told her where to find his well-oiled mitt and second-best athletic shoes — but instead he sat on the faded orange couch and played videogames, his left foot resting on the ottoman, calf and hairy toes flexing at the most thrilling and/or perilous virtual encounters.

7. Throw in an adverb or two (never more than one third the number of adjectives

When asked by his little sister, a ginger-haired cherub with little butterflies on her jean shorts, John said he wanted to play some ball — he told her where to find his well-oiled mitt and, specifically, his second-best athletic shoes — but instead he sat on the faded orange couch and played videogames, his left foot resting on the ottoman, calf and hairy toes flexing at the most thrillingly perilous and/or maddeningly difficult virtual encounters.

8. Elaboration — mostly unnecessary. Here you’ll turn nouns phrases into longer noun phrases; verbs phrases into longer verb phrases. This is largely a matter of synonyms and prepositions. Don’t be afraid to be vague! Ideally, these elaborations will contribute to voice — for example, ‘had a hand in’ is longer than ‘helped’, but still kinda voice-y — but that’s just gravy. The goal here is word count.

When asked by his little sister Bella, a ginger-haired suburban cherub with two make-believe horses and little yellow butterflies on her jean shorts, John definitely said he wanted to play some ball — he told her where to find his well-oiled mitt and, specifically, his second-best athletic shoes — yet seemed unaware that the white New Mexico sun was crossing the sky and sinking below the foothills as he sat on the faded orange velvet couch and played videogames, his left foot resting on a month-old magazine which was in turn resting on the ottoman, his calf and hairy toes flexing at the most thrillingly perilous and/or maddeningly difficult showdowns with level bosses and their virtual henchmen.

9. Give it that Wallace shine. Replace common words with their oddly specific, scientific-y counterparts. (Ex: ‘curved fingers’ into ‘falcate digits’). If you can turn a noun into a brand name, do it. (Ex: ’shoes’ into ‘Hush Puppies,’ ‘camera’ into ‘Bolex’). Finally, go crazy with the possessives. Who wants a tripod when they could have a ‘tunnel’s locked lab’s tripod’? Ahem:

When asked by his little sister Bella, a ginger-haired suburban cherub with two make-believe Lipizzaners and little yellow lepidopterae on her Old Navy jean shorts, John definitely said he wanted to play some ball — he told her where to find his well-oiled Nokona mitt and, specifically, his second-best athletic shoes (the Nikes) — yet seemed unaware that Albuquerque’s ghost-white sun was charting its ecliptic path across the sky and sinking below the foothills as he sat on the faded orange velvet couch and played Fallout 3, his left heel resting on the face of Kristen Stewart, who graced the cover of a month-old Entertainment Weekly which was in turn resting on Pottery Barn’s cheapest ottoman, John’s calf and hairy toes flexing at the most thrillingly perilous and/or maddeningly difficult showdowns with the Super Mutants of Vault 87 in pursuit of the Geck, a device he wasn’t sure he even wanted.

Thus, 10 words become 151. And absurd, but that’s the fun.

Some sample sentences to try on your own.

  • Mary’s car would not start. Her sister was not surprised.
  • Tom liked cheese. Eating too cheese much hurt his stomach.
  • The lawn was brown. Tom didn’t know how to fix it.

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