Monday, June 22, 2009

Fragments, more obsession with

Let me start out by saying that fragments can serve a useful purpose, etc. And if you use a purposeful fragment, I as the reader or editor should get some greater meaning from the fragment being there. HOWEVER, that doesn't mean all or even most or even half or even a quarter of the fragments I see in submissions and student papers serve any purpose other than to make me question how closely you paid attention in 6th grade English.

How about challenging yourself? Whenever you use a sentence fragment, challenge yourself to explain why a sentence fragment is better here. If you can't, try to connect it to another sentence or make it a sentence by adding the necessary words. Now of course you can always justify anything, and if not, you can hire a lawyer to do it for you. But this isn't about your asserting your will over the editor. Ego isn't what matters here. Does the fragment's fragmentation add something that makes up for the momentary annoyance in the reader-- and the possible loss of credibility for you as the writer?

Often, frankly, this tendency to fragment is just laziness—you have an afterthought and just add it and don't notice or care that it is a fragment. Notice. Care. I will. And I'll be annoyed to have to do YOUR job. And I'm cranky when I'm annoyed. And you've lost credibility. Was it worth it? Yes? Okay, maybe there's a purpose to that fragment. But usually, really, fragments happen because you're not paying attention to your sentences and aren't noticing what goes with what, what adds to meaning, what connects.

Here's the sort of useless fragment that gives all fragments a bad name:

She contemplated the probable options. For the future.

Why on earth is "for the future" set off? It's a prepositional phrase that modifies or tells more about "options," and those two should go together—the modified and the modifier. We can probably even just eliminate the "for the future"—options are in the future by definition, right? But if you want to keep "future" for emphasis or rhythm, attach it. Make it belong. Make it have only the importance it should have—and that's not enough importance for its own sentence.

Sentences are units of meaning. Everything that goes together in a sentence belongs together. Everything cut off doesn't belong in that sentence. Every sentence is different (or should be), and each will have its own logic and coherence. But that flexibility requires more from you, not less, as a crafter of sentences.



Leona said...

I paid attention in sixth grade, but I have found, since reading this blog, that fragments are my Archilles heel. And, I'm having to think through the fragment process. Is it truly fragment or the implied 'you'? (I look for a verb, but it stops my flow) A truly bad habit that I'm making an endeavor to change.
Thank you for your posts!

Kathleen MacIver said...

THANK YOU!!!! (I'm never quite sure how to phrase it politely when I'm asked to crit something that's 50% fragments.)

Edittorrent said...

Leona, I just had one of those "implied you" frags in a post I did, and I hesitated because, well, I'd just done this post decrying fragments!

I did go back and make it clearly a sentence, though I think it was okay as a frag.

"Frag"= fragment of fragment

K, I know, and if you complain, they'll say, "It's my voice!" And you will bite your tongue so that you don't say, "Well, you have a really ugly voice." (g)