Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Writing Fragments

Thanks to a friend's share on Facebook
Study the above carefully. I find another "goodie" each time I do.

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I was startled recently when someone asked me about "fragments," as they've become so much a part of my writing style that it never occurred to me anyone still believed every sentence in fiction should be complete with subject and verb, just as we were taught in English class in school. But since this blog has, from the beginning, been dedicated to those just starting the process of writing fiction, I guess it's time I addressed "fragments" with more than a paragraph or two. So . . .

Some authors confine their use of fragments to dialogue. And that's fine. Some romance lines, such as the shorter, more simplistic books published by Harlequin/Silhouette, seem to require what I call "schoolgirl" English. Short, easy-to-read sentences with classic subject and verb, even keeping opening prepositional phrases to a minimum. More sophisticated books, however, are considerably more flexible. Here are some examples from the work of my alter ego, Blair Bancroft. Fragments marked in red.

From The Lady Takes a Risk:

   Or until she married. Ah-ha!  Surely excellent bait for catching a husband of her own choosing.
   If she gave up her dream of marrying for love.
   If she settled for a man venal enough to marry her for her money.

   Anyone was better than Cedric! And at least the choice would be hers.
   But who? Amelie frowned. She had already rejected a goodly portion of the most eligible gentlemen in the ton. Nor did any of them look more appealing upon second reflection. Someone handy, someone in the neighborhood? Dullards all. Besides, Cedric, there was naught but a widowed baron with five children, and a knight who had already gone through three wives.
   Except . . .
   Ah! Delicious.
Papa would have an apoplexy if she married a farmer. A hops farmer, at that. The duke would raise such a fuss the roof of Wentworth Priory would blow straight up to the heavens.
Or some beggar in the street. That’s what Papa had said. And she would not hesitate to remind him of those ill-chosen words.
   But live at Kirkwood Farm after twenty-three years as the pampered daughter of a duke?
   She could. Truly she could. Anything was better than being married to a man who cared more for the fit of his coat than his wife. A man who had to force himself on a woman with all the finesse of a blundering bear.
   Tomorrow she would do it. Early, before she lost her nerve.
But eons of convention loomed over her, every mother, grandmother, nurse, and governess through the ages looking down from the heavens and crying, “You cannot do that! It’s unthinkable. ’Ware!”
But she would. Tomorrow she would ride to Kirkwood Farm and ask its owner to marry her.
To hammer my point home, I considered rewriting the above in full sentences and decided it would be too painful. I just couldn't do it. Instead, I'll try to analyze why I used fragments. 
Mostly, I believe, because fragments are the natural way we think or talk. We do not converse with a neighbor over the backyard fence in perfectly formed sentences. Nor with the clerk at the grocery store. Or with our children. FICTION needs to be natural, in both narration and dialogue. The thoughts and speech of our characters need to match their personalities. Even when I'm writing about characters who live 200 years in the past, I try to make them sound and feel natural. This is even more important when writing contemporary or futuristic fiction. So let's find an example in my newest tale of Suspense and Romance, Hidden Danger, Hidden Heart (see cover & caption at top of page).

   For a fleeting moment guilt nibbled at her satisfaction. What had she done to deserve all this, except be born a Van Dyne?
   She’d worked hard. Damned hard! And suffered enough slings and arrows from Uncle Malcolm to arm both sides in a tribal war. If only her father were still CEO . . .
With a vehement snap of her finger Ashley flipped the light switch.
   One more day of Ashley’s Choice.
   One more day of sticking it to Van Dyne Industries.

The above segment illustrates another reason to use fragments. They emphasize; punctuate, if you will. Just as we use one-line paragraphs for emphasis, we use fragments to make words stand out. Using them both together, as in the last two lines, adds to the emphasis.

 Here's an example from my work-in-progress, the SciFi adventure, Royal Rebellion:

   “And you need to finish the quote, which goes on to say: ‘Great men are almost always bad men.’ Is that what you are, Admiral? And what about your son? Or mine? Will they end up like us? Like Darroch? Headstrong despots, determined to have their own way, no matter how many die?
   Vander Rigel straightened to his full height. “I have never been a despot, not even when I was Admiral of the Fleet.”
   Rogan clicked his tongue. “Altruistic, kind-hearted Vander Rigel, savior of supposedly innocent females, Hero of the Empire, murderer of thousands on the prime planets of five—or was it six?—star systems. Banker to the Rebellion. Father of the Empire’s worst enemy."
   “And proud of it.” Vander met Rogan’s knowing gaze, eye to eye. No more secrets. S’sorrokan, legendary leader of the rebellion, was a Reg. More precisely, Talryn Rigel, his elder son.

It is very common for authors to confine themselves to using fragments only in dialogue. It is, in fact, absolutely essential to use fragments to keep your dialogue sounding natural. Other authors, like myself, want our narration, particularly introspection (thoughts) to sound natural, so we use fragments there also. If you're an indie author, the choice is up to you. If you are aiming at the New York print market, it's necessary to study the style of the books published by the companies you're aiming at. Whatever your genre, however, make sure you are not confining yourself to endless declarative sentences (as most of us were taught in school). Except in the most simplistic books, a variety of sentence styles is absolutely necessary to keep modern readers' interest. Do not get caught in an endless round of: Subject first, then the verb (Dick ran.) Or Subject, verb, & what comes after. (Dick ran to the store). 

Pardon me for ending with that well-worn but oh-so-true quote:

Variety is the spice of life.*

*An excellent example of a declarative sentence. We just don't want to read books with one right after the other in endless plodding succession!

~ * ~

Next week: more on sentence structure


For a link to Blair Bancroft's web site, click here.
New Facebook Author Page, posted 3/10/18.
For a link to Blair's Facebook Author Page, click here.

To request a brochure from Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, please use the link to Blair's website above.  

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  1. I still feel guilty when I write a single-sentence paragraph.

    I do it, because I've come to realize that it is the way bloggers (and now, newspaper columnists!) write. After reading it so often, the single-sentence paragraph feels almost natural to me. But I still feel as if I'm betraying "real" essayists. [Beginning a sentence with a conjunction, too! Oh, no, a fragment! What a slippery slope.]

    The cynical part of me says that we're writing in single-sentence paragraphs because we have forgotten how to talk, let alone write, and have single-sentence attention spans. I learned the last when I realized that making more than one point in a single e-mail was asking for misunderstanding, because so many readers latch onto one idea and ignore the rest!

  2. Well said! Sometimes you need the fragment to make a point.