1. karajmnz
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    karajmnz Member

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    Incomplete sentences

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by karajmnz, Apr 27, 2013.

    What is your opinion on using incomplete sentences? I know it's not a good idea in non-fiction but I was under the impression that it was fine in fiction. After all that is how we talk so it sounds a little more natural. However, several reviews that I received on another site, of my work have pointed to incomplete sentences saying it's a problem. Here's an example:


    He’d been sitting on that bench since 8:00 A.M. Wearing a red baseball cap and sunglasses while pretending to read a book.

    and

    Bianca muttered a quick thank you and then clutching the straps of her backpack, she headed down the long driveway. Her feet crunching on the tiny stones.

    Should I replace the period with a comma and just make it all one really long sentence? Thanks for the help!
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with using them in fiction, but the incomplete sentences in your examples don't really do anything positive in my opinion. You're essentially breaking up an idea into multiple sentences for no good reason. I would recommend using a comma.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that sentence fragments can be fine, but they need to earn their keep, to add something that the more conventionally structured sentence didn't have. In the case of your sentence, I'm not seeing that anything is added. The two sentences are of similar length, so the cut-off sentence doesn't seem to increase the pace, or have any particular change of rhythm, or add anything in any other way. It doesn't feel like a bonus thought, instead it feels like a thought that's missing something.

    Now, the cut between sentences does add somethig in the sense that a single sentence containing both sentences fees too long. But you can just have two complete sentences instead:

    He’d been sitting on that bench since 8:00 A.M. He was wearing a red baseball cap and sunglasses, and pretending to read a book.

    Bianca muttered a quick thank you, the headed down the long driveway. Her feet crunched on the tiny stones, and she clutched the straps of her backpack.


    If I were to rewrite them and retain the fragmented structure, I'd probably rewrite them as:

    He’d been sitting on that bench since 8:00 A.M. Wearing a red baseball cap. And sunglasses. Pretending to read a book.

    Bianca muttered a quick thank you and then headed down the long driveway. Feet crunching on tiny stones. Hands clutching the straps of her backpack.


    Do my fragments add anything? I'm inclined to think that they add something to the first example, and take away from the second. I think that I perceive this because in the first sample I'm sort of throwing individual small thoughts at you - take THIS! And THIS! I feel as if there's a change in pace or rhythm. While in the second example, the new thoughts are too long to serve as bite-sized thoughts.

    Then again, I have a fondness for sentence fragments, so I may be deluding myself in thinking that they work for the first example.
     
  4. LordKyleOfEarth
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    LordKyleOfEarth Contributing Member Contributor

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    They should be used sparingly if at all. I would also have flagged those examples, as the incomplete sentences do not contribute, in any meaningful or unique way, to the story at hand. Fragments are like semicolons: They can have a strong impact, but are also easy to use incorrectly.
     
  5. karajmnz
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    karajmnz Member

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    Thank you all for your help! I understand a lttle better. Now off to edit!
     
  6. blackstar21595
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    blackstar21595 Contributing Member

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    If you're an amateur(like me) don't do it. If you're an amazing author, do it.
     
  7. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    You have to make sure the fragments look intentional, not just there because you cannot understand how to write proper sentences.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that!... i couldn't have put it any better... or simpler...
     
  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Incomplete sentences appear often in fiction, and if done properly, they look just fine on the page. Like this, for instance. Nice and conversational.

    But don't do it like this:

    Bill walked down the. Street and then he. Stopped for coffee at. Starbucks.

    (Actually, that reads almost like a found poem. Hmm ...)
     
  10. squishytheduck
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    squishytheduck Senior Member

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    I usually only use an incomplete sentence in writing thoughts and dialogue, or to interject and idea into a longer, more fluid passage as a way of emphasizing that idea, or to break the flow of said passage, in the way that you insert an aside with dashes or parentheses.

    e.g. Sometimes James thought Drew sounded like a Valley girl and was about as sharp. Not fair that Drew had a trust fund when his own parents wouldn’t even buy him a car. THOUGHTS

    or

    The air whipping across his body as he sped across the pavement made him feel strong and dominant. He was master of the universe every time he powered through the gnawing ache in his limbs that slowly accrued mile after mile. Constant power output, fine tune the gearing. Speed. Endurance. Machismo.

    Even this is more like a description of thoughts, since these excerpts are from the first story I wrote since high school, where the narrative is stream-of-consciousness. I actually haven't used incomplete sentences in the 6 months I've been writing since this.

    I feel like there's just no reason for you to make your sentences incomplete. To me, it doesn't change the flow of the passage, and I would read it with the same pacing as if there were a comma there instead, only I would stop and do a double take and be like, "huh? Why is this two sentences." And if I saw that again, I would probably just stop reading altogether.
     
  11. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    My advice would be only to use them when you need them and when they add something to the tone, meaning, or pace of the writing. There are many techniques to achieve many things in writing. Some more effective than others. <-- That is an example of a fragmented sentence used conversationally; n most cases, I would would either change the period to a comma or add the word "are" to the make the fragment a whole sentence.

    When it comes to punctuation and style, there are a lot of rules and conventions, and I can only say practice many styles. Then have multiple people read them until you find out what works best for you as the author. Don't let others define your voice, but leave room for your voice to grow and your style to develop. I like there is a time and place for every technique or punctuation mark, and I don't discourage trying any of them; just be prepared for all kinds of feedback, especially if you don't know how a technique should be employed.
     

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