Who knew that getting into the “technical” side of writing could be such a fascinating subject? Punctuation, grammar, counting the number of words in sentences and on and on. Did you notice I just slipped in a fragment sentence?
In today’s world of sharp and sloppy writing, few are going to judge something designed to thrill because it doesn’t have a proper “subject” and “predicate” structure. Perhaps its the advent of texting that allows us to accept “No shit” or “BFF” as complete thoughts, and therefore complete sentences. We don’t seem, as a culture, to have the patience for a long sentence. I can see my special guy right now, tapping his foot; my mom snarling out “get to the point.” We can no longer deal with a sentence like this from Jane Austin:
“Elizabeth passed the chief of the night in her sister’s room, and in the morning had the pleasure of being able to send a tolerable answer to the enquiries which she very early received from Mr. Bingly by a housemaid, and some time afterwards from the two elegant ladies who waited on his sisters.” – Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austin
The above is by no means the longest sentence ever, but it packs a tremendous amount of information into a rather long bunch of fifty-four words. In conference catalogues and ads, sponsors are often limited to fifty words or less to tell their complete story, not the first sentence of a chapter.
Am I lamenting the downfall of the English language? Absolutely not. I really appreciate Stephen King’s thought on sentence “frags:”
“Must you write complete sentences each time, every time? Perish the thought. If your work consists of only fragments and floating clauses, the Grammar Police aren’t going to come and take you away.”
But, to me, you use a fragment like you might a strong spice in cooking–sparingly and with distinct purpose. I think frags draw attention to themselves, which, in itself, is a powerful tool. You know going in what you’re doing. However, if you draw attention to the writing too much, you run the risk of losing the story, don’t you? When a fragment draws attention to itself as much as to the story, you’re doing what “they” call “pulling the reader out.”
I can handle some of that. In fact, I think of fragments almost as replacements for interjections:
“Can’t go. Mom said.”
“Sure. But have to finish my homework.”
There wasn’t really a complete (or complex) thought in any of that dialogue, but moms everywhere get a sense for that interchange, and with our common cultural experiences, can even fill missing gaps with information of our own.
Would I want to write a whole story with these cut-off thoughts? It would be a fun experiment, a good writing exercise; but I think fragments, handled badly, don’t get your point across. They become the abstract painting that’s gone too far, and leave people frustrated in their efforts at guessing what the artist meant.
Where do fragments fall in your writing toolkit? Are they friendly “frags” or obnoxious, disrespectful-of-the-rules, “fragments?”
Writing. Enjoy it.
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