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rwam
08-15-2006, 08:20 PM
My Beta reader - a fourth grade teacher - is driving me nuts with a sticking point regarding my 1st-person narrative. I know her job is to teach children to write in proper English, but she's blowing a gasket whenever my novel's narrator uses a fragmented sentence. Granted, these aren't fragments common to realistic dialogue. Instead, these are the narrator's thoughts throughout the story and they're intended to be fragmented sentences (to give the narrator an informal conversational tone). She insists that even though the story's great and she loves everything else, agents and/or publishers are going to think I don't know the basics of sentence structure. At a minimum, she says, get rid of the 3-4 that are in the first couple chapters, so as to avoid a bad first impression. Considering maybe 1 percent of my sentences are fragments and it's commercial (definitely not literary) fiction, should I be worried?

Rob

Medievalist
08-15-2006, 08:29 PM
It's difficult to respond without seeing the text, but internal dialog is still dialog, so I'd leave 'em lay.

rwam
08-15-2006, 08:47 PM
Thanks. Here's a prime example (sentence beginning with 'probably'):


After calming her, I took an inventory of her symptoms. A slight headache, she said, but yes, her stomach and ears were fine.
Probably just a virus.
I gave her some Tylenol, and though she was much too big, I carried her back to bed. This intimacy would be gone by sunrise.

rekirts
08-15-2006, 08:52 PM
I'm no editor, but as a reader that wouldn't bother me.

Medievalist
08-15-2006, 09:35 PM
After calming her, I took an inventory of her symptoms. A slight headache, she said, but yes, her stomach and ears were fine.
Probably just a virus.
I gave her some Tylenol, and though she was much too big, I carried her back to bed. This intimacy would be gone by sunrise.

The fragment itself doesn't bother me, but it's not clear that the narrator is thinking that, rather than the patient doing a self-diagnosis.

rwam
08-15-2006, 09:47 PM
Good point, Lisa....I'll take that into consideration.

JanDarby
08-15-2006, 09:51 PM
As long as the fragments she's pointing out are intentional, like the example you quoted, just ignore this particular aspect of her comments . Fragments are perfectly okay in fiction if used properly, for effect.

Just make sure she's not pointing out an unintentional fragment or one that's confusing.

JD

Jamesaritchie
08-15-2006, 10:07 PM
The fragment itself doesn't bother me, but it's not clear that the narrator is thinking that, rather than the patient doing a self-diagnosis.

I don't have a problem with who is thinking what. The "I" and the "her" make this clear to me.

maestrowork
08-15-2006, 10:08 PM
There's nothing wrong with sentence fragments, unless they're overused or done poorly. Tell your beta reader to read some modern fiction, and file a report on how many fragments she finds in them.

Steve W
08-22-2006, 07:38 PM
Hi,

Put me down for another 'that's fine by me' vote.

I know someone who doesn't like fragments and I find their critiquing annoying. He also objects to the odd word for no apparent reason, e.g. snigger. (There's a thread somewhere about words you hate - totally illogical to me. They're just words.)

Stick with your fragments. Most people will get them.

Cheers,
Steve

maestrowork
08-22-2006, 08:24 PM
Chuck Palahniuk uses a lot of fragments, to the point I'd probably say "overuse." But, hey, until I sell more books than he does, I'm not going to say he's wrong.

Kudra
08-23-2006, 06:54 AM
I love sentence fragments when they're done right. Here's how to do them right: http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=78&aid=106133

Carmy
08-23-2006, 09:37 PM
I'm assuming this refers to using fragments in fiction. Go for it!

Let's face it, we aren't writing an essay for the teacher to mark. We are told to write the way people speak, and most people speak in fragments. (If they didn't, we'd all doze as we listen.)

Fragments can be used to great effect and I'll be damn*d if I'd let a grammarian mess with my fiction.

jchines
08-23-2006, 09:46 PM
She insists that even though the story's great and she loves everything else, agents and/or publishers are going to think I don't know the basics of sentence structure. At a minimum, she says, get rid of the 3-4 that are in the first couple chapters, so as to avoid a bad first impression. Considering maybe 1 percent of my sentences are fragments and it's commercial (definitely not literary) fiction, should I be worried?

What is your beta reader's experience working with agents and/or publishers? How many books has she submitted for publication? How many rejections has she seen for the crime of sentence fragments?

It's important that you know the rules of grammar, but that's so you know when to break them appropriately. This is fiction, not fourth grade composition.

Fragments can be overdone, of course. But from what you say, she's not complaining that they're poorly done, or that they don't work. Just that they're not grammatically correct. To me, that's a "Thanks for the feedback! I'll give it all the consideration it deserves."

Alexenafi
08-27-2006, 11:10 PM
I have no problem with fragments. I agree with making it clearer who is thinking/saying them. Italics is one way a publisher may do this. Although formatting should be minimal in your m/s, you could put these in italics to distinguish them. If you choose to do this start this in your first chapter so the reader can see the pattern in your writing and understand what to expect throughout the story.

It's great you're getting an opinion on your work from a teacher. However, fragments are a grammatical tool and therefore should not be regarded as gramatically incorrect. Because they're not. In the end it is up to you and you should consider where your critics are coming from. In this teacher's case: from the point of hard and fast grammatical rules. She is not teaching grade fours how to break rules, just what they are.

Good luck. Your writing is smooth and I like the tone you have created with fractionals. I work as a medical copywriter and understand how hard it can be to work medical jargon/narrative into a story.

Just one comment:
Consider removing the extra comma: Recommend: A slight headache [delete comma] she said, but yes, her stomach and ears were fine.

Fi

DeborahM
08-27-2006, 11:45 PM
Teaching correct english and writing is one thing.

Yes, there's a but to follow...humans have a tendency to think and speak in fragments in the real world, therefore, you as the writer will sometimes need to write a fragmented thought or sentence.

I'd also consider finding another, who is an avid reader, to proof/edit your ms for you.

Julie Worth
08-28-2006, 12:11 AM
I have a number of readers, and I've discovered that every one of them has some pet peeve. So I don't argue. I just say thank you and fix the things that obviously need fixing, and those other things that two or more of them pointed out.

Crinklish
08-28-2006, 06:06 AM
Well, I am an editor, and I can tell you that used well, sentence fragments don't bother me one bit. In fact, I'm more annoyed by writers who adhere so faithfully to the grammar rules they learned in fourth grade that they distort the character's voice. (I see tons of slush submissions that won't use contractions in dialogue because the writer thinks that's too informal!)

MMWyrm
08-28-2006, 06:36 AM
I'm a fan of well-placed fragments myself. Such as the one you used. :)
I go for a casual, comfortable flow with my writing, and sentences marching onward like tin soldiers doesn't really do that for me.

persiphone_hellecat
08-28-2006, 06:36 AM
I don't mind fragments in dialogue. We all kind of talk in fragments. Dialogue is one of the best ways to define your characters' character. I hate when writers pass on the contractions in dialogue - with the rare exception that they are used by either a person who speaks very formally and distinctly or if the character's second language is English - many people learning English haven't mastered contractions - yet. However I have seen examples where fragments will just drive you NUTS. The one and only time I ever bought a book, read it and took it back was recently someone recommended House by Peretti and Dekker to me. The fragments were maddening. "They walked down the hall. Turned a corner. Looked in front of them." OOMG - It was maddening. I wanted to strangle both of them. I've never read anything else by either one (Christian horror aint my thing) and I never will. They truly took fragments to the point where they fragmented my brain.

jchines
08-28-2006, 03:48 PM
I see tons of slush submissions that won't use contractions in dialogue because the writer thinks that's too informal!

I've seen this so many times in workshops. It throws me right out, because people don't talk like that. I don't care whether your Junior High teacher taught you contractions were bad. In dialogue, use 'em!

I taught college writing for a few years, and the way I read and graded those papers was very different from the way I read and critique fiction. Academic writing is whole separate beast.

janetbellinger
08-28-2006, 05:04 PM
I went through a sentence fragment phase when I first started writing and thought I was Hemmingway. Now I avoid them in my own writing.

Variant Frequencies
08-28-2006, 07:56 PM
Mitch Albom and Eoin Colfer use sentence fragments very well. I love their stuff.

Alexenafi
08-29-2006, 01:20 AM
Janet,
I was going to comment on your choice to avoid a potentially effective writing technique. But then I saw that you've bothered to travel all the way to New Zealand (where I was born), so decided we're all entitled to our own style. Except me - my clients choose mine, at least in my day job (medical copywriter).

Variant,
You're bang on with the Albom comment. I'll look out for Eoin Colfer.

Aubrey
09-02-2006, 02:10 AM
I think fragments are like semicolons. They can be used effectively, but you have to be careful with them and never overuse them.

I can't believe people submit things without contractions. Unless it's a scholarly tbook on microbiology it seems so stuffy. It's also the way I find myself speaking when I'm really mad, which means when I see it anywhere I feel like I'm being scolded.

persiphone_hellecat
09-03-2006, 08:30 AM
Aubrey, for that very reason, there are times when you don't want to use contractions. One character in the book I'm finishing would never use them -- because she talks down to everyone and treats everyone like she's better than they are and they are stupid. So I write her character without them. I also once wrote a character that way whose second language was English - because I found that most people who are just learning English don't use them. In his case, it made his dialogue more colorful. In her case, it makes her dialogue more acerbic. Fragments, I reserve for dialogue only. If the sentence needs a semi colon, I use one. I find I prefer my writing to have a smoother flow to it than short choppy fragments. Try reading something aloud. If you like the way it sounds, use it. Personally I dont think fragments sound good aloud.