In the world of storytelling, whether through writing or filmmaking, the structure of your sentences can be just as crucial as the words themselves. One important literary device is the cumulative sentence.

In this article, we'll explore what a cumulative sentence is, provide examples, and discuss how it can be a valuable tool for filmmakers and writers alike.

Let's dive in.


Cumulative Sentence Definition

Joan Didion, her husband, a toddler in a living room in 'Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold'

'Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold'

Credit: Netflix

In grammar, a cumulative sentence is an independent clause that is followed by subordinate phrases or clauses, which gather details about a noun or an idea. It can also be called a loose sentence.

For example, Joan Didion uses one in her essay "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream" where she writes:

“The San Bernardino Valley lies only an hour east of Los Angeles by the San Bernardino Freeway but is in certain ways an alien place: not the coastal California of the subtropical twilights and the soft westerlies off the Pacific but a harsher California, haunted by the Mojave just beyond the mountains, devastated by the hot dry Santa Ana wind that comes down through the passes at 100 miles an hour and whines through the eucalyptus windbreaks and works on the nerves.”

Cumulative Sentences in Filmmaking

Joseph Fiennes as William Shakespeare and Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola de Lesseps acting in a play in 'Shakespeare in Love''Shakespeare in Love'

Credit: The Weinstein Company

Cumulative sentences are not limited to literature; they can also play a valuable role in filmmaking. Directors and screenwriters can use this sentence structure to craft compelling dialogue and narration.

By employing cumulative sentences in voiceovers or character monologues, filmmakers can provide rich insights into characters' thoughts, emotions, and the world around them.

they could take the shape of verbose voiceovers, monologues, or even in scene description.

How Screenwriters Use Cumulative Sentences

The Dude, played by Jeff Bridges, drinking a White Russian in 'The Big Lebowski'

'The Big Lebowski'

Credit: Gramercy Pictures

Cumulative sentences can be a powerful and underutilized tool in screenwriting. While screenplays are primarily composed of dialogue and action descriptions, the narrative voice in screenwriting can be enhanced through their use.

Let's examine how:

  1. Character Introductions: When introducing a character, consider using a cumulative sentence to provide more depth and context. Instead of simply stating a character's name and physical appearance, use cumulative sentences to reveal their personality, quirks, and backstory.
  2. Scene Descriptions: Cumulative sentences are particularly effective when it comes to describing settings or locations. They can help paint a vivid picture of the environment, immersing the audience in the world of the story.
  3. Character Thoughts: Cumulative sentences can be used to convey a character's inner thoughts and emotions, especially in voiceovers or internal monologues. This technique allows the audience to connect more deeply with the character's perspective.
  4. Building Tension: Cumulative sentences can be used to gradually build tension and suspense in a scene. By stacking details or events one upon the other, you create a sense of anticipation and unease.

Cumulative sentences are a versatile tool in the writer's and filmmaker's toolkit. They enable you to create layered, descriptive, and engaging sentences that captivate your audience and bring your narratives to life.

Whether you're crafting a novel, screenplay, or simply looking to improve your writing skills, understanding and using cumulative sentences can elevate your storytelling to new heights. So, give them a try and watch your sentences come alive with detail and depth.

Let me know what you think in the comments.