Running Style Rhetoric

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

running style in prose
"The free-running style," said Aristotle in his Rhetoric (4th century BC), "is the kind that has no natural stopping places, and comes to a stop only because there is no more to say of that subject.". (Jeff Diener/Getty Images)

In rhetoric, the running style is a sentence style that appears to follow the mind as it worries a problem through, mimicking the "rambling, associative syntax of conversation" (Richard Lanham, Analyzing Prose). Also known as the freight-train style. Contrast with the periodic sentence style.

An extreme form of the running style is stream of consciousness writing, as found in the fiction of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

Examples

  • "It had rained in the night, and the lane was awash with thin red mud, and puddles stood in the ruts and potholes. It was steep, wet, slippery walking. And cold."
    (Berton Roueché, What's Left. Little, Brown, 1968)
     
  • "It's like I was making a prison break, you know. And I'm heading for the wall, and I trip and I twist my ankle, and they throw the light on you, you know. So, somehow I get through the crying and I keep running. Then the cursing started. She's firing at me from the guard tower: 'Son of a bang! Son of a boom!' I get to the top of the wall, the front door. I opened it up, I'm one foot away. I took one last look around the penitentiary, and I jumped!"
    (George Costanza, "The Ex-Girlfriend" episode of Seinfeld)
     
  • "He could feel it under his feet. [The train] came boring out of the east like some ribald satellite of the coming sun howling and bellowing in the distance and the long light of the headlamp running through the tangled mesquite brakes and creating out of the night the endless fenceline down the dead straight right of way and sucking it back again wire and post mile on mile into the darkness after where the boilersmoke disbanded slowly along the faint new horizon and the sound came lagging and he stood still holding his hat in his hands in the passing ground-shudder watching it till it was gone."
    (Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses, 1992)
     
  • "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."
    (Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep, 1939)
     
  • "Hate needs no instruction, but waits only to be provoked . . . hate, the unspoken word, the unacknowledged presence in the house, that faint smell of brimstone among the roses, that invisible tongue-tripper, that unkempt finger in every pie, that sudden oh-so-curiously chilling look--could it be boredom?--on your dear one's features, making them quite ugly."
    (Katherine Anne Porter, "The Necessary Enemy," 1948)
     
  • "The long evening had made its way into the barrack through the windows, creating mysteries everywhere, erasing the seam between one thing and another, lengthening out the floors and either thinning the air or putting some refinement on my ear enabling me to hear for the first time the clicking of a cheap clock from the kitchen."
    (Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman, 1967)
     

Observations

  • Running Style vs. Periodic Style
    "[In classical rhetoric, the] 'running' style . . . is that in which the ideas are merely strung together, like beads, in the order in which they naturally present themselves to the mind. Its characteristic is simple continuity. The characteristic of the 'periodic' style is that each sentence 'comes round' upon itself, so as to form a separate, symmetrical whole. The running style may be represented by a straight line which may be cut short at any point or prolonged to any point: the periodic style is a system of independent circles."
    (Richard Claverhouse Jebb, The Attic Orators From Antiphon to Isaeus. Macmillan, 1893)
     
  • Parataxis
    "If the periodic style is basically hypotactic, the running style is basically paratactic, incremental, shapeless. It just goes on. . . .

    "To imitate thus the mind in real-time interaction with the world is to write in some form of running style. The serial syntax registers the first thing first and then the second thing second, simple chronological sequence always calling the tune and beating the tempo. Such a syntax models the mind in the act of coping with the world. . . . Things happen as they want to, not as we would have them. Circumstances call the tune."
    (Richard A. Lanham, Analyzing Prose, 2nd ed. Continuum, 2003)

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