1. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Does a sentence always have to have a subject?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by peachalulu, Oct 16, 2012.

    Just wondering if for the sake of style can you eliminate the subject or does it
    add confusion and isn't really stylish but confusing -

    here's a sample of something I'm working on -

    He wants to excuse his thoughts...
    “Didn’t I give you that diamond? Couldn’t I have sold it? Be nice to me.” Spoken with fumbling hot, wet lips. He’s breathing rapidly while chewing the corner of a card. Ace of diamonds. Seen behind the veil, he’s like a snorting beast. Hunched and sweaty and anxious.



    the Spoken sentence has no subject ( that I notice ) is it clearer to say - he spoke with fumbling hot, wet lips?

    also - if the action doesn't seem to link up - the speaking and chewing the card - it's because the scene fluctuates between
    what he imagines, what he'd like to do with what he's actually doing. - the Spoken sentense is imagined, the chewing sentence is real.
     
  2. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Technically, if it doesn't have a subject (or equivalent) and a verb it's not a sentence, it's a fragment. But fragments are ok in creative writing, as long as you remember that a few go a long way. The opening of Dickens' Bleak House is entirely in fragments, and more recently John McGregor's If nobody speaks of remarkable things has two narrative voices, one of which uses only fragments. Those are extreme cases, but most writers use a few here and there for effect.
     
  3. Langadune
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    Langadune Member

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    Use the rules of grammar as a guideline, but, more importantly, tell your story and tell it well. A reader won't put down a book in disgust just because you used a dangling participle.
     
  4. Thromnambular
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    Thromnambular Member

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    Well, some people might be offended if they see that your participle is dangling. :p

    I think what's important is that it reads well. As long as it doesn't look messy, you're just using artistic license to make it sound more dramatic/poetic.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Know the rules of grammar, and apply them unless you are breaking them for a good reason. Don't just break them because you can't be bothered to learn them!

    Language is your toolkit. Take good care of it, and it will take good care of you.
     
  6. SJ Wonder
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    SJ Wonder New Member

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    I like to use sentence fragments, especially to emphasize a point or denote a sudden shift in the action or illustrate confusion. Sometimes.
     
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Fragments aren't in quite the same class as dangling participles. Fragments are a well-recognised and established technique in creative writing. They don't break the rules of grammar: they're technically not sentences, but the rules don't say that sentences are the only things you can have. Dangling participles, on the other hand, are always going to look wrong. By all means use them, but only when "looking wrong" is the effect you want to achieve.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, fragments can be useful... however, in your example, it doesn't work well, imo...

    besides the point that one doesn't speak with only one's lips [hot and wet, or otherwise], how you've worded and placed it after the line of dialog is awkward when read... it comes across as a badly done dialog tag that's been improperly punctuated and capitalized...

    it seems especially odd to me, with all that other stuff following it...
     
  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I've been reading Style ; ten lessons in clarity and grace by Jospeh Williams. Guess I should keep reading. ha! He's very adamant
    that sentences should have subjects.
    Broken sentences is one habit ( possibly bad - who knows ) that I need to break or tame. I notice they crop up into
    my writing a lot!
     
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Is that book by Williams for fiction writing? There's nothing wrong with sentence fragments being used in fiction, though I would suggest using them sparingly.
     
  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    It's not exclusively fiction - and he does warn the reader that they shouldn't be restricted by these rules for creative writing.
    I'm learning a lot from it ( though his sample sentences are exceedingly dull ) but I've been Googling sentence fragments which
    I'm not sure he tackles.

    Fragments are a type of style but they're supposed to be used sparingly with the surrounding sentences making
    enough sense that they don't cause confusion.

    I'm thinking of ordering a book I seen online on alternative style which goes over this technique. I don't want to
    conform my style - I want to learn how to make it work. To sharpen and clarify it.
     
  12. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Tame the habit, don't break it. Fragments have their place. Look at how other writers you like use them, and see what effect they produce. Look at the different effect of omitting the subject and omitting the verb (the effects are very different, almost opposite). Look at the different effects of isolated fragments and long sequences of fragments. Make a conscious choice of when to use full sentences and when to use fragments. Take control.
     
  13. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's one way of doing it. I've quoted two books, one classic and one modern, that use them anything but sparingly. Bleak House is in the public domain and easy to find on line. I'd strongly recommend looking at the opening and seeing what Dickens does with the fragments. It's a masterpiece of stylised writing that (with changes) a good writer could still make work today. By removing the lexical verbs (which are what carries tense) Dickens places us outside time, outside change, which foreshadows the plot of the book. You could still do that, the technique is still available -- but it's probably not an effect you would often want. (Before I read Bleak House, I used the technique to describe a commute, conveying -- I hope -- that it seemed interminable and seemed to repeat forever into the past and future.)
     

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