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Creative Writing Style Suggestions
Transcript of Creative Writing Style Suggestions
When are sentence fragments appropriate?
Example of sentence fragments used effectively:
"When it was light enough to use the binoculars he glassed the valley below.
Everything paling away into the murk. The soft ash blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop.
He studied what he could see.
The segments of road down there among the dead trees. Looking for anything of color. Any movement. Any trace of standing smoke.
" - "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy
Why is this effective? Because it is DELIBERATE.
It emphasizes a clipped, negative, anxious tone (this is a post-apocalyptic story).
It expresses the precise pattern of the protagonist's thoughts; we feel immersed in his POV.
It emphasizes the vivid imagery. Imagery is very important in this novel because of the unique and dangerous setting
What should we avoid when using sentence fragments?
Do not use them so repetitively that they distract the reader from the plot and the characters.
Do not use them because you don't feel like writing a complete sentence.
Do not use them unless you want to emphasize an idea or an image, or influence the TONE of the story.
Capitalization, Punctuation, and Grammar
It is true that there are many writers (e. e. cummings, Cormac McCarthy, James Joyce, etc.) who break the basic rules of syntax, grammar, and punctuation. However, as Pablo Picasso once said, “Learn the rules like a professional, so you can break them like an artist.” This means that we should learn the basic, "boring" rules of language so that when we break them, we break them DELIBERATELY and FOR EFFECT. If you are committed to developing your skills as a writer, you should try to use our toolset (the English language) as clearly and effectively as possible. If you are interested in pursuing writing in a professional environment, please note that submitting an error-filled manuscript may cause an editor to skip reading it...and possibly miss out on the valuable story it contains!
Capitalize the first letter of each sentence.
Please remember that "its" is possessive; "it's" is ONLY a contraction for "it is"
If you are telling your story in present (I walk into the store) or past (I walked into the store) tense, please keep that tense consistent unless you have a concrete reason (flashback, possible POV change, etc.)
Please use complete sentences unless you are writing dialogue, emphasizing a specific idea, or creating a certain TONE or MOOD.
Please be careful of your spelling.
Please make sure that your dialogue is punctuated correctly. See the general course dialogue resource on our website homepage for more. We'll begin our dialogue module soon!
Gesture: How much is too much?
I tend to emphasize the importance of paying attention to the gestures of your characters. Even the smallest gesture can reveal a wealth of information about what is going on inside a character's mind; SHOWING a gesture may be more effective than just TELLING us what emotion your character is feeling. However, there can be too much of a good thing!
Too much gesture: "Paul sat down at the dinner table and rapped his knuckles on it. He reached for the water, setting it down gently. He ran his fingers through his hair. He frowned. He picked up his knife and beat a rhythm gently on the side of his plate. He ran his fingers through his hair again. He smiled and picked up his coffee cup, putting it down nervously. He laughed and bit his lip."
By the time we have read that, not only are we distracted, we may almost forget what is occurring in this story! When using gesture, try to hone in on just a few details that reveal the state of the character's mind and express the tone (attitude) of the story.
Better gesture: "Paul sat down at the dinner table and rapped his knuckles on it, creating a beat that he continued with his knife and fork. Sam glanced at him as Paul attempted to smile, handling his coffee cup with shaking hands." This is certainly not Pulitzer material, but it uses gesture a bit more deliberately and concisely.
How can we use a balance of narrative tools?
When we live our day to day lives, we "experience" all the characterization tools that can be used in writing: dialogue, description/narration, action, gesture, inner thought, character interaction, etc. Some stories we write, however, may focus more heavily on one or a few of these tools. How do we decide what to use?
Do not remove a tool unless there is a good reason (i.e. not using inner thought because your point of view is not omniscient, using only brief dialogue because very little needs to be said in the scene, etc.
Ask yourself: what attitude, tone, or mood do I want this story to express? Which characterization tools might help me to best express this tone?
Ask yourself: Which aspects of my characters are most important to reveal? Which characterization tools would best express those character traits?
Sentence Fragments: What are they?
In order to understand what a sentence fragment is, let's review some basic syntax:
Subject: The subject is the part of a sentence or clause that commonly indicates (a) what it is about, or (b) who or what performs the action.
Verb: Words that denote action in a sentence (run, fly, type, sleep).
Complete sentence: A sentence that contains a subject AND a verb, and expresses a complete thought.
Incomplete sentence (often called a Sentence Fragment): A clause that does not express a complete thought. It is often lacking a verb or a subject.
Many sentence fragments are fragments because they contain a "verb" that is in the PRESENT CONTINUOUS or PAST CONTINUOUS tense, but they do not include the entire verb form and/or they do not include the subject (the noun that DOES the action in a sentence).
SIMPLE PRESENT TENSE: I eat PRESENT CONTINUOUS: I am eating (*am* is necessary for complete sentence)
SIMPLE PAST TENSE: I ate PAST CONTINUOUS: I was eating (*was* is necessary for complete sentence)
Consider the following:
"I sat in the restaurant. Eating a cake. Ordering some ice cream. Wondering what would happen next."
The last three "sentences" are actually FRAGMENTS here; if we did not want them to remain fragments, we could say (for example): "I sat in the restaurant. I ate a cake and ordered some ice cream while I wondered what would happen next." Or you could say simply: "I was eating cake and ordering ice cream."
Fragments can be used for emphasis (especially in dialogue), but using full sentences is often clearer, more concise, and less distracting.