Thierry: A friend of mine recently posted on a social media site that really, I shouldn’t worry about sentence fragments in my writing, You, Arielle, on the other hand, have been on a one-person crusade to rid my stuff of what you obviously consider literary anathema. We kidded about it for quite a long a while now, actually from the first time you read something of mine and I think you said, “You’re a pretty good writer, but those sentence fragments…”
Arielle: Yes, that does sound like something I would say. In fact, I probably said that. You are, for the record, a really good writer. I think, honestly, that the sentence fragments would bother me a lot less if you were a really bad writer. In your excellent work, they stand out.
Thierry: I think you’re perhaps a tad… puritanical here. Sentence fragments can serve a purpose. They force the reader to take a breath, and make him or her consider what’s just been written, and what’s to come.
Arielle: I really don’t agree, love. When I come across a sentence fragment, I usually stop, read the sentence a second time to make sure I haven’t missed anything, and then ultimately come to the unfortunate conclusion that it was an editing mistake. During that whole process of re-reading and analyzing, I lose track of the story, the characters, and the suspension of disbelief.
Thierry: Um. I will admit that having to reread a paragraph, or go back to the beginning of a document I’m reading to understand what’s going on irks the bejeezy out of me. It’s something I bring up whenever I’m critiquing someone’s work. It’s possible that some sentence fragments can do that, but so can any other literary trick, including endless paragraphs and run-on sentences. I maintain, for the nonce (a great and seldom used word) that a well-placed fragment can be useful. Now, I’m willing to admit I may use a few too many, but some are worthwhile.
Arielle: All right, show me. I am ready and willing to be convinced. Demonstrate to me a sentence fragment that can be useful or even beneficial to the narrative.
Thierry: You know perfectly well that’s impossible out of context. I’d have to write a short story and insert a fragment to prove my point, and since we already have a dozen projects and a very long list of things to do, there’s no time at the present. However, if I were writing a story about scary events happening at night, I might very well write, “Night. Why always at night?” It would set the time and the mood very succinctly.
Arielle: I would actually hate that. To me, that seems contrived.
Thierry: What’s style to one is contrivance to another; I think that’s inevitable. Better writers than I have used fragments. Think Dickens, Dumas (pere et fils), and I’m sure many others. For some reason, I am fixating on Nabokov and Lolita. I seem to remember dozens of fragments there.
Arielle: Haha, you’re fixating on Lolita because you know it’s my favorite book. Okay, okay, I tell you what. I genuinely don’t see the value in sentence fragments, but let’s address them one at a time. When I find one in your work, I’ll ask you to justify it. If there’s a reason that it really adds to the passage, we can discuss keeping it. Does that seem fair?
Thierry: You give me too much credit. I knew you liked Nabokov, but I wasn’t aware Lolita was on your all-best list, which, I have to say, is a bit strange considering your very strong feminist stance in all things! Still, that’s not what we’re discussing here, chérie, so let’s forget the aside. Yes, that’s entirely fair. Find a fragment and I will justify it. If I can’t, you’re welcome to beat it to death with a bat. Or a hedgehog. Effective sentence fragment.
Arielle: I, uh, don’t agree that it was an effective fragment, but I’m…willing to make this effort for you.
Thierry: So you’ll find a fragment and we’ll take it from there? Moving right along. I have overheard that you believe my punctuation is execratory. Strong word, that.
Arielle: It is a strong word, and I’ve never used it to describe your punctuation. I did say that your punctuation isn’t very accurate in terms of the rules of grammar. I don’t really take issue with your punctuation use, though. It serves a purpose. The way you punctuate, the way you write, I can almost feel the way that Jeanot is feeling. I can see how his thoughts have a sort of disjointed flow, something of a breakneck pace. It works very well, which is why I’ve never challenged you on the subject.
Thierry: Obviously a literary foe thought to discredit you in my eyes, not realizing the futility of such an effort. What else in the book do you find hard to deal with?
Arielle: Nothing. Vraiment. Easiest editing job in the world. Oh, look, I wrote a sentence fragment. Have I mentioned, at any point, that I have absolutely no problem with you using sentence fragments in your dialogue?
Thierry: Realistically, dialogue is often just a bunch of fragments strung together. As a matter of fact, you’ve seen me in critiques take issue with dialogue that is perfectly grammatically correct, and totally false sounding. People talk in fragments. One of the things I’ve learned writing scenes with dialog is that if the characters know each other well, they’ll almost read each other’s minds. That’s hard to portray, but when done well, is really effective.
Arielle: I completely agree. My favorite screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, writes dialogue just like that. I’ll never criticize you or anyone else for grammatically inaccurate dialogue. Nobody uses perfect grammar in their daily conversation. Not even I do it. It isn’t realistic, you’re right.
Thierry: Wow. I write like Aaron Sorkin! Who knew? And it’s not even my native language!
Arielle: I told you that I liked your writing! Wait, have you ever seen anything by Sorkin?
Thierry: Um. This is going to be majorly embarrassant. No. I have not seen anything by Sorkin.
Arielle: Close google docs, we need Netflix, stat.