I recently came across a short piece written by Joe Bunting that I found on Jane Friedman’s website, 8 Techniques to Win You a Pulitzer. I won’t go into the details (click the link for the explanation) but here they are:
1. Write long sentences.
2. Write short sentences.
3. Be lyrical.
4. Make an allusion to the Bible, or Moby Dick, or Milton.
5. Use an eponym to name your characters.
6. Be specific.
7. Write a story within a story (or a story within a story within a story).
8. Have a wide scope.
As I’m making my way through Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, I see the first technique over and over. In this example, The Swede, the book’s tortured soul, is wrestling with what he should have done, didn’t do, did do, might have done – the kind of endless hand-wringing that we all know too well. He just does it one long sentence.
“But instead he had driven directly home from the office and, because he could never calculate a decision free of its emotional impact on those who claimed his love; because seeing them suffer was his greatest hardship; because ignoring their importuning and defying expectations, even when they would not argue reasonably or to the point, seemed to him an illegitimate use of his superior strength; because he could not disillusion anyone about the kind of selfless son, husband, and father he was; because he had come so highly recommended to everyone, he sat across from Dawn at the kitchen table, watching her deliver a long, sob-wracked, half demented speech, a plea to tell nothing to the FBI.”
That’s one long sentence, complete with semicolons and everything. Technique No. 2 should be easier to master.