Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sentence fragment angst

In previous post, I typed this:
I know, picky picky, but I like to be precise. Especially when emailing Theresa, who will notice if I'm not!

But then, remembering that I should model good behavior (yes, yes, that's what I try to do, and stop laughing), I changed it to:
I know, picky picky, but I like to be precise, especially when emailing Theresa, who will notice if I'm not! 

This inner debate (which went on for a while: "But I like the emphasis!" "But what if they think I approve of sentence fragments in general?") made me consider why we go with fragments, and whether we need to have some self-guidelines (NOT rules) or consider each on a case-by-case basis, or just go with what feels right, or....

It's been a really trying morning, debating all this. It's like seeing a teenaged girl in a revealing outfit. "That makes her look like she's just a sexual object!" "Well, you know, she should flaunt it while she has it. Another decade, no one is going to want her belly button showing." Expression or accuracy????

And how much does accuracy matter in an informal setting?

But I was considering what would be a "right" sentence fragment. Are there circumstances and considerations that -- should the sentence come out fragmented, you'd hesitate and then decide to keep it?

Help here-- How about looking at your recent writing and come up with examples of where you went with a fragment, and maybe some where you decided to incorporate the fragment into a sentence or add the words needed to make it a sentence?
 trying to come up with Grand Unified Theory of Sentence Fragments


Terry Odell said...

Heavens, I'm the Fragment Queen. I use them all the time because I write in Deep POV, so I'm in my characters' heads, and we think in fragments, not complete sentences.

Here are just a few paragraphs from my mystery, DEADLY SECRETS:

Shaking away the ever-recurring doubts about why Dix had insisted he take the job, Gordon grabbed his eye drops from his desk drawer, tilted his head, and dripped the fluid into each eye. Blinking, he waited for his vision to clear, then picked up the first night report. Car blocking a fire hydrant on Ash Street. Nice fine for that one. The Mapleton town council would be pleased.

He continued through the stack. Mostly citizen complaints. Barking dogs, rowdy teens. He stopped at an altercation at Finnegan's Pub. Triggered, apparently, by an article in the Mapleton Weekly.

Gordon found his copy of the paper and turned to the article in question. Holocaust: Fact or Fiction? Great. Another one of Buzz Turner's articles, trying to parlay his job into one at a big-city press. Tabloid was more likely.

My editors haven't minded.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Edittorrent said...

So what's your grand unified theory, Terry? When do you use a sentence, and when a fragment? Do you see any pattern?
And does the pattern change depending on the character in viewpoint?

MittensMorgul said...

I tend to only use fragments for emphasis, and usually only when the POV character is thinking, rather than talking aloud. If it seems natural in the flow of dialogue, such as in a hurried conversation, or a situation where one or more of the characters are in imminent peril, for example, fragments are the logical way to go. At least, that's how it seems to me.

If the monster's about to get you, your dialogue wouldn't necessarily be grammatically correct! :P

Edittorrent said...

Mittens, what about during the narrative part, where "you" are telling what's happening?

Clare K. R. Miller said...

Here's an excerpt from a flash fic I recently wrote:
"It’s a good knife.

Goes in nice and smooth.

There’s blood on her floor but she knows how to clean up. That can wait. For now she has to get him to the place she’s prepared for him.

Nice hole in the ground. Lined with wood so the dirt won’t fall in on his face."

I used lots of sentence fragments, though I wasn't thinking about it specifically, to indicate a rather fragmented mind.

I also just wrote a fight scene that used several sentence fragments (though not as many as that) to speed it up and show that the POV character really didn't have time to think.

MittensMorgul said...

During narration, I try to only use fragments for the same reasons I stated above. Either they help create a tension, a feeling of urgency, or a rush; or they create emphasis of a particular phrase. Here's something I just made up.
A man had tripped and stumbled into a display of oranges at the grocer's, and sent the neatly balanced produce pyramid tumbling and bouncing into the gutter. The neighborhood kids thought it was a great bit of entertainment at the mean grocer's expense. But then the grocer came outside.

Obviously, this is a terrible example, but that last fragment (which in this case I'd probably have tacked on to the previous sentence anyway, since it's not particularly tense, or well-written). Making that last sentence a fragment, rather than a complete sentence, sets it off, highlighting the, "Dum dum DUUUM!" That should read like dramatic music.

Sorry if this isn't clear.