1. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    Purposefully using sentence fragments

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Nicholas C., Nov 12, 2011.

    I've noticed that a lot of successful authors -- King, Barker, Gaiman, Palahniuk, among many others -- often use sentence fragments in their writing, I'm assuming to assist the pace and flow of their writing. My question is to what extent is this acceptable if you are a new author trying to get published?
     
  2. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Acceptable, I would have thought, provided

    - the technical quality of the the whole piece is such as to suggest that the fragments are evidence of artistic choice rather than grammatical slovenliness

    - they are effective. They work.
     
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  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Of course they're acceptable. A good writer can use them for a variety of effects.

    But they can be overused. I took an online writing course in which the students had to critique each other's stories, and one student had obviously fallen head over heels in love with sentence fragments. It seemed that half of every paragraph she wrote consisted of sentence fragments. The effect was a very jerky, choppy style that read like driving a car over broken pavement.

    So be careful with them. But, where they're effective, then, by all means, use them.
     
  4. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agree with the above. They can be extremely effective when used properly. I've seen some that have me breathless - which was exactly the purpose (extreme tension scenes) - and others that made the whole sequence incomprehensible.
     
  5. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I like when authors leave out the last and in a list for style.

    She put on a dress, high heels, make-up.
     
  6. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    So who, in your opinion, is someone who does it very well? Coming from an AP style, strict grammar background -- I've never felt comfortable doing it and would love to see what other writers think are good examples.
     
  7. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Here is an example I used in my sixth novel I'm working on.

    I sneered at the city, itself resembling the makeshift steps--broken, dirty, rusty.
     
  8. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Two examples I like.

    "An hour or two saying nothing. Just watching, talking quietly about anything but the truth. Loving. And then he would leave: she would never know when, and he could never tell her why. He owed her that; it would hurt deeply for while, but the ultimate pain would be far less than that caused by the stigma of Cain." Bourne Indentity, Robert Ludlum

    "And there was something beside the bowl. Unable to see it clearly, she touched it.
    Cloth! A folded mound of clothing. She snatched it up, dropped it in her eagerness, picked it up again
    and began putting it on. A light-colored, thigh-length jacket and a pair of long, loose pants both made of
    some cool, exquisitely soft material that made her think of silk, though for no reason she could have
    stated, she did not think this was silk.
    The jacket adhered to itself and stayed closed when she closed it,
    but opened readily enough when she pulled the two front panels apart." Lilith's Brood, Octavia Butler.
     
  9. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, man, I'd have to run through my books to find the best ones. But I like the ones architectus listed, too.

    Here's a couple from a story I wrote some time ago:

    "As far as he knew, they had one armored vehicle. The others were beat up jeeps and old trucks, a couple cars. Rag tag army. Good enough to take him out easily. Unless he could set up an ambush of some kind. He kept glancing around him as he ran. Nothing. Brush and a few emaciated trees. God forsaken country."

    "They were getting closer. The noise level was rising constantly. Roaring engines echoing around him. Dust coming now. Damn. Cutting the visibility to almost nothing. He caught glimpses of vehicles, filled with fanatics. Guns raised, waving in the air. Occupants screaming their anger. Total sensory overload."
     
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  10. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Shadow, nice. That really reminds me of Robert Ludlum. :)
     
  11. MVP
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    The entire opening paragraph of Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    ^This.

    And yes, there are plenty of examples of authors doing it well in published work. It can be very effective, if handled properly.
     
  13. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with everyone else. I occasionally use them myself.

    Example of a bad one I saw a while ago is:
    "He wears a red shirt. Orange shoes and a blue hat."
    That was in the description of a character on a forum I used to frequent.
     
  14. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wow. Thank you. :D
     
  15. digitig
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    Do you mean Bleak House? A Tale of Two Cities doesn't start with fragments. If you mean Bleak House then seconded. It's useful to note the effects of sentence fragments. One is that they make things seem clipped and abrupt, which is probably the most common use. But Dickens uses another feature of sentence fragments: because they lack a finite verb, the sense of time and duration is vague or missing. The fog that Dickens writes about at the start of Bleak House and the way he writes in fragments so there's no sense of change or movement wonderfully foreshadows the case of Jardyce v. Jarndyce. The actual style and language might be a little dated, but it's a masterclass in technique.
     
  16. Vofzolne
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    Vofzolne Member

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    I find that fragmented sentences work great when used to represent a character's thoughts.

    I have mixed feelings about this. I stumbled over the end of the sentence, expecting an additional item.
    If the sentence is fragmented, say: She put on her clothes. A dress, high heels, make-up. I feel like omitting the "and" in this instance makes no difference. The sentence is already grammatically flawed, so I as a reader do not expect proper syntax at the end of the sentence.
    At any rate, I find this particular subject difficult to judge outside of proper context.
     
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