Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She also writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.
Teachers do not like them. Many a red-ink pen bleeds out because of them. Still, the fragment—also known as an incomplete sentence—placed wisely, used judiciously, and created artfully can be a writer’s good friend.
Bottom half of the seventh, Brock’s boy had made it through another inning unscratched, one! Two! Three! Twenty-one down and just six outs to go! And Henry’s heart was racing, he was sweating with relief and tension all at once, unable to sit, unable to think, in there, with them! Oh yes, boys, it was on! He was sure of it! More than just another ball game now: history! And Damon Rutherford was making it. Ho ho! Too good to be true! And yes, the stands were charged with it, turned on, it was the old days all over again, . . . (The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover 3).
The statements in bold font are fragments, technical fouls in the writing world. Each is only a small part of a sentence; each appears without the crucial subject and verb; e. g.,
o [Brock’s team] stands at “twenty-one down [after seven innings] and just six outs to go [in the final two innings]”.
o [This game is] “more than just another ball game now: [this game is] history!”.
o [The truth about this game so far is that it is] “too good to be true!”.
Readers don’t need those bracketed portions, do they? In fact, including the bracketed words slows down the passage, dulls the excitement building, and sounds less like a man might think or speak, especially if that man is devoted to baseball. The fragments make a valuable contribution, don’t they?
Manuela, my only friend, . . . is a simple woman and twenty years wasted stalking the dust in other people’s homes has in no way robbed her of her elegance. Besides, stalking dust is a very euphemistic way to put it. . . .
‘I empty wastebaskets full of sanitary napkins,” she says, with her gentle, slighting hissing accent. ‘I wipe up dog vomit, clean the bird cage—you’d never believe the amount of poop such tiny animals can make—and I scrub the toilets. You talk about dust? A fine affair!’ (31).
Only one fragment appears in the passage above from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbary: the last exclamation from Manuela in describing what “stalking the dust” actually requires of her. And what a fine exclamation it is. Barbery gives Manuela the language of her employers who, no doubt, believe they are fine and that they attend elegant affairs, banquets, and exhibits. Manuela mocks them and their affairs by juxtaposing her soiled hands against their euphemisms and lofty language.
In addition, Barbery has placed the punch in Manuela’s explanation of her work in a powerful position: last place. She has also taken advantage of another great writing tool: brevity. Readers remember well what they read last and messages that are economic. Other blog posts that explain and illustrate short, simple sentences placed well include posts from March 28, 2010; April 4 and 11, 2010; May 2, 2010; February 11, 2011; March 4, 2011; and April 1, 2011.
For those who delight in language and to witness the fragment at work, read either one of the two books chosen to illustrate the effective use of fragments:
Barbery, Muriel, and Alison Anderson. The Elegance of the Hedgehog. New York:
Europa Editions, 2008. Print.
Coover, Robert. The Universal Baseball Association, Inc.: J. Henry Waugh, Prop. New York:
Plume, 1971. Print.
Write 150-500 words on a topic you know well. Use two fragments judiciously and artfully. Defend your use and the placement of them.
GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics):
I created the two book citations above by using www.easybib.com. If you have not taken advantage of EasyBib, you have been laboring alone, dripping sweat upon the pages of an MLA or APA Handbook. Use EasyBib. It’s a good thing (Martha Stewart).