"He wrote a sprawling novel Thillana Mohanambal with dozens of very deftly etched characters."

Sprawling generally means - spread out over a large area in an untidy or irregular way.

What does it mean here?

  • 4
    If you know the meaning of the word - surely the metaphor is obvious, isn't it?
    – WS2
    Feb 10, 2018 at 9:42
  • Thanks for comment WS2! Actually, Iam not a native English speaker and that's why the metaphor is not too obvious too me :) Feb 11, 2018 at 7:00

2 Answers 2


Generally, when calling a book or movie “sprawling”, the writer means the narrative itself is spread out over a great deal of space or time. It‘s like “epic”, but with fewer people.

Consider the movie Legends Of The Fall. It covers several decades, but only of a small family, and only in one place (except for some unconvincing battle scenes). It possibly qualifies as “sprawling”.

Watch Lawrence Of Arabia. The movie follows its title character across the Middle East for years, has lots of convincing battle scenes, and zillions of extras. It passes “sprawling” and gets well into “epic”.

Now look at The Godfather: Part 2. Covers rural Italy, turn-of-the-century New York, and 50s Nevada, but no crowd-scenes, no battles; spot-on “sprawling”.

  • Thanks Malvolio! I really understood what you wanted to say, and your explanation was very easy to catch :) Feb 11, 2018 at 7:10

Big, engrossing novels, so engrossing they’re not too tight and not too perfect. They’re loose, shaggy, and sprawling as the world about them. You can get lost in them. Examples: 'Moby Dick', 'Great Expectations', 'Ulysses'. They can seem 'untidy' and for many it is a leap of faith the author will pull together a great novel

Middle English 'spraulen' - to move awkwardly.



https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/sprawling-epic books

A review of a book using sprawling: Meyer’s sprawling western The Son is all about power: the lengths we go to attain it and the price we pay to keep it. Spanning 200 years and six generations and many characters, it follows the McCullough family through the generations.

  • Thanks lbf! Your basic point is that a sprawling novel is one, which is engrossing because its story is sprawling in a sense that its full of randomness dont stick to a particular point. But, in the other answer by Malvolio, he has explained a sprawling novel to be one, which is spread over a great deal of space and time. I suppose that both meanings can be used at different instanes? Feb 11, 2018 at 7:19

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