favoring fragments

Just for fun, and possibly to indulge the impatient iconoclast in me, I did a count of the sentence fragments in my recently published story “The Lonely Road.” As you probably know, I’m not a great adherent to the so-called “rules” of grammar (and usage and punctuation and even spelling sometimes) in creative writing. I believe that we creative writers have a free pass on these rules and that, in fact, we are the vanguards of the evolution of our language. It’s our task to break the rules and create the new forms.

Now, I don’t set out to deliberately break the rules when I write. (Take, for example, that last sentence, in which I blithely split an infinitive. It sounded right, and I wrote it, and then realized that it was “wrong” afterward.) I simply write to tell the story in my head, casting my sentences in whatever way I think is most effective. And I seem to favor sentence fragments.

So I sat down with the published version of “The Lonely Road” and did the count. (Published and thus “official.”) There are approximately 259 sentences in the story. (I was interrupted several times in my count, so these are rough numbers.) Of those, 195 are whole, grammatical sentences, leaving 64 that are sentence fragments. Nearly a quarter of that story is grammatical error!

And I counted one-word sentences in dialog as whole sentences, which I think is okay, but it could have been worse, people!

I’ve had past arguments online (primarily at Poets and Writers but also on random blogs) in which my advocacy of “creative construction” was thoroughly and authoritatively denounced. A writer must know the rules of grammar before he (or even she) may break them! I am told. I happen to think that’s hogwash. Even balderdash. But I’ve made that argument on this blog several times before, and I’ll spare you my fulminations now. You’re welcome.

Anyway, back to my point. When the editor returned my story for review, she had proposed adding one hyphen and two commas. They were not required, she pointed out, and not even necessarily “correct,” but she thought their addition made the story more clear in those places. I agreed, and we added them, and that’s how it appeared in print. And that’s all we did. She never said anything about the preponderance of sentence fragments in the story. Not a word. Not one. At all.

This, of course, makes me think that the acolytes of the rules are the ones who are mistaken. In fact, not one of my handful of published stories ever received a grammar-based objection from an editor. And when I read fiction (both of the masters and the emergents) I see the rules of grammar broken regularly.

So am I thumbing my nose at those acolytes. Probably. May I do that? Certainly. Do I enjoy it? Immensely.

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One Comment on “favoring fragments”

  1. donnaeve Says:

    I guess the only thing I try to be aware of is using too many adverbs and I try to avoid passive voice. But, I am soooo glad to hear you’ve not had one piece returned for a bunch of grammtical errors b/c I’m sure I’m making them left and right and I don’t even know it. (Sixth Sense style)…if it sounds “right” I write it. and if some editor ever returned something to me and said, “this has split infinitives EVERYWHERE!” I’d be screwed b/c I’d be clueless. I gotta go look that up.


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