Fragments

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.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back (A Sentence Fragment)

Thierry: Well, Arielle, we did it. We whittled the L’Amerique book down, changed the point-of-view, wrote some new stuff, and in record time! I am impressed! You only called me a bad word once during the entire process!

Arielle:  Qui? Moi?

Thierry: Oui.

Arielle: Never! You must be thinking of some other brilliant and talented editor extraordinaire. By the way, there are sentence fragments at the beginning of this blog. Please fix them.

Thierry: Excuse me, Arielle, but you seem to be forgetting that, as you know and have told me, I wouldn’t recognize a sentence fragment if it bit me.

Arielle: Nevermind, already did it myself. You’re welcome, readers.

Thierry: At last count, we had about 130 more-or-less finished pages. I had originally planned for the L’Amerique series to be trilogy, and the second book, tentatively titled The First Few Years, would pick up when the family arrives in America.

Arielle: Right, I remember.

Thierry: So now I’m going to rewrite that from the French kid’s point of view and stick it on the end of the first book.  Two books in one!

Arielle: Everything’s two-for-one in America. Anyway, I’m actually working on what we are calling “Chapter 23” of L’Amerique right now. By the way, did I tell you that I’m now struggling to maintain normal conversations in English? I’ve been reading so much of L’Amerique that I occasionally refer to perfectly innocent American bystanders as “Chérie,” and occasionally greet them with “salut,” or suggest that he or she “arrete,” which of course confuses everyone. The other day, I tried to order a milkshake at Lost Dog by asking “s’il te plait.” What have you done?

Thierry: And here I thought Chérie was reserved for me. Ah, America.  Anyway, you spoke French perfectly well long before you met me. You can’t hold me responsible for your re-emergent francophonology.

Arielle: Cherie is the feminine, so no, it’s not reserved for you, unless there’s something you feel you should tell me.

Thierry: This is getting well away from the high literary tone we strive for,  Why am I not surprised?

Arielle: A high literary tone, je pense, calls for a complete lack of sentence fragments. What did  you want to talk about?

Thierry: Is this what you anglophones call “a bee in a bonnet?” This monomaniacal devotion to a small issue?

Arielle: Monomaniacal is a fun word! It is a word quite frequently used by one of my favorite authors, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Do you know what literary device he absolutely did NOT employ?

Thierry: Arthur who?

Arielle: I quit.

Thierry: Were you referring to Arsene Lupin?  

Arielle: QUITTING. That was NOT okay. We have talked about this. You KNOW how I feel about Maurice Leblanc. Low blow. Bad form. Not a strong choice. Quitting.

Thierry: Désolé. Anyway, you can’t quit. We have about twelve more books to do together, including a couple of yours.

Arielle: I don’t write books. I only write your books.

Thierry: I believe the word you’re looking for is rewrite.

Arielle: Okay, fair. So, I rewrite your books? How exactly is that better? Anyway, like I said, I’m actually working on L’Amerique right now, and we have a small problem with chapters 23 and 24. 23 is too short, and 24 doesn’t flow logically from the end of 23. Can you write more things? Possibly now? Maybe while I go and get a drink or something? How does twenty minutes sound?

Thierry: I’m on it.

My Editor is a Demon

lameriqueedit

Thierry: So we are working on my book L’Amerique, and you’re being very…

Arielle: Patient. Positive. Punctual. Practical.

Thierry: Um… Is there a polite word for demanding? Pushy?

Arielle: I think the word you’re looking for is “effective.” Not a P word, unfortunately.

Thierry: Well, pushy  was not the word I was looking for anyway. More attenuated, yet with the same impact…

And by the way, I want to say here and now that you’re doing a spectacular job.  I’ve been reading the new version and it flows very well, but you are sort of demanding. I mean, “I want this in my inbox by Wednesday?”

Arielle: I want this in my inbox by Wednesday…please?

Thierry: I forgot. What is is you want by Wednesday?

Arielle: I would like you to please look over chapter 21 and 22 and to please decide if there is a way that we can salvage some of the content and plot from those two chapters s’il te plait, as I distinctly remember you bemoaning the fact that if we cut those chapters, we would lose so much of your valuable work. So, darling, precious, if you would be ever so kind, may I please have your thoughts on the matter in my inbox by Wednesday so that I can get on with editing YOUR book? Please?

Thierry:You  told me a few days ago that you weren’t sarcastic but I sense a degree of it here. Also, you’ve never said please or called me precious in your entire editing career so you can understand that I’m a bit, um, taken aback.  Confused, Égaré as the French would say.

Arielle: Okay. So, you want me to be real with you?

Thierry: Um. I’m not sure…

Arielle: Well, I know that you’ve been in this writing business for a few years. You’ve gotten used to people blowing you off, not responding, taking forever to get back to you, claiming to have read your work when they really haven’t, etc, etc. I know. You’ve blogged about it before. Am I right?

Thierry:  You are. One of the most frustrating parts of writing and trying to market to agents and publishers is the incredible arrogance of these people. Most agents don’t bother to even respond anymore. They say, “If you don’t hear from us in four months, it means we’re not interested.”  Most publishers won’t look at your stuff if it  doesn’t come through an agent.  Okay. End of rant. So yes, you’re right.  

Arielle: That does sound incredibly frustrating. Luckily, you have me! I’m not blowing you off. I’m working on your book right now, and I expect us to be keeping to a regular schedule of progress. You can have it one of two ways, Thierry. I can take this seriously, we can work on this book like we mean it and we can finish the thing in time to send out some good query letters before summer’s out, or we can blow it off, work on it sometimes, and do what we feel like, when we feel like doing it. Do you want to get this book published before I’m dead?

Thierry: Certainly, before I’m dead, dear. Please, please, s’il te plait, devote all your waking hours to it.

Arielle: That’s more like it. The thing will be in my inbox on Wednesday, yes?

Thierry:  Thursday.

Arielle: I’m sorry, did I stutter?

Thierry: My next story will be, Ten Ways to Deal with a Pushy Editor. Friday. Maybe Saturday.

Arielle: Get me the thing I asked for by Wednesday, and it’s just possible that somebody might actually read your next story.

 

L’Amérique Part I

Thierry: So, Arielle, you’ve agreed to edit my book, L’Amérique.

Arielle: YAAAAAAAY SERIOUS EDITING!

Thierry: I must admit that when you originally threatened to “slash the book with a chainsaw,” it sort of filled me with dread.

Arielle: YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY CHAINSAWS! Wait, why? What’s scary about that? This is editing, right? You want me to edit your book and help you make it even better than it already is (which is saying something). I have to ATTACK IT WITH GUSTO! CHUTZPAH! METAPHORICAL CHAINSAWS!

Thierry:  The words “chainsaw” and “book” don’t belong in the same sentence, sort of like haddock and whipped cream don’t belong together…

Arielle: No? Circle saw? Jig saw? Table saw? Laser beams? Ooooh, I like laser beams…

Thierry: Pay attention, please. How about something civilized like scalpel, or red pencil?  I’m sort of old school.

Arielle: Oh. Well. I mean. We COULD do that, but none of those implements gives you that same sense of urgency and adventure! You can’t have an adventure armed with a red pencil. I guess a scalpel would work, maybe, but it’s not really my style. You realize we’re not actually going to chainsaw anything, right? These are all just metaphors. It’s just a plan of attack. Like,  I’m going to get really intense on this book and make it the best it can possibly be! I’m going to put forward six hundred percent! Right?

Thierry: I don’t have any doubt that. The big issue here is that I’ve worked on this book for more than a decade. I thought it was done and I was pretty certain it would find a publisher quickly. It hasn’t. Thing is, you live with a book long enough and it becomes set in stone. The idea of making changes is, well, hard.

So, handing it over was a serious move. But you’ve done a stellar job on the other stuff of mine you’ve edited, so there was never a question of anyone else touching that book. Plus, I’ve seen the way you work. You’re meticulous, which is important, and you have a pretty good vocabulary.So I’m delighted! And curious, I guess.

Arielle: Oh, um, thanks! Hooray! I’m glad you’re delighted!

Thierry: Calloo callay!

Arielle: So, wait…this isn’t going to be a problem is it? I mean, I totally understand, I do, that this book is really important to you. Of course it is, it’s your magnum opus, I get that. There are certain changes that we’ve agreed to make, though, and if it’s going to really upset you every time I have to cut something we’re…well, we’re probably not going to go far without everything getting a little out of hand. Okay, wait, maybe I don’t actually understand because I’ve never written a 400 page novel. I usually direct my own plays so no one cuts them. I, uh. Is this maybe not a good idea?

Thierry:  Nah, it’s a great idea. And the couple of chapters you’ve already done more than allay any fear I had.  You’re using a very tiny chainsaw, more like nail clippers really, and that works. I’m sure we’ll have some differences of opinion, that’s normal and it would be strange not to differ on some issues, but by and large, I’m certain this is going to work out well. We’ll have a better, more readable and approachable book. More dialog, less exposition.  And probably no sentence fragments.

Arielle: Wait, but that last thing you wrote was a sentence fragm-! Oh. I get it. Yeah. Okay. Sounds good.

Thierry: I think it really boils down to trust between us. I trust you to apply your talents to something that will eventually become closer to your own, and you trust me to not bitch and whine and moan and, basically, to understand that you will spare no effort to make this a better  work. It’s a win-win.

Arielle: Okay. I’ll try. I promise. Can I trust you to not make any more sentence fragment jokes?

Thierry: No. Well, maybe.  There are some important issues here. We’re trying to make this book conform more to my agent’s vision of what will sell. We have to change the point of view. We’re probably going to lose at least 100 pages of stuff, some of which I’ve liked a lot.There’s going to be some pain involved.  But then again, no one ever said writing was a safe craft.

Arielle: So…full speed ahead, chainsaws and damn the torpedos? I don’t actually want this to be painful at all. I love the book as it is, I really do, but you’re right in that we need to make some changes in order to sell it. It’s better, I guess, that we have a concrete set of instructions (the term “concrete” is admittedly debatable), because that makes it clearer that these edits aren’t necessarily changes that I feel we should make, but changes that the agent feels we should make. I don’t have to be the bad guy!

Thierry:  Full speed ahead, damn the chainsaws.

Arielle: Okay, okay…no chainsaws. You never let me have any fun…

Thierry: We know the chosen role in my life is to remove an semblance of enjoyment from your life.  Right. I’m actually really looking forward to what you’ll do with this.  I think it’s going to be a challenge for both of us.  But we’ve already done, what, three chapters?  I think these came out a lot better than the original, so yeah, have fun. You do great work when you have fun

Arielle: Aw. Yay. Thank you! I’m looking forward to this too!