Writer’s Toolbox Wednesday: Sentence Basics

In my endeavor to help out my fellow writers, here’s the first of my Writer’s Toolbox Wednesdays. Today’s topic: the sentence.

What is a sentence?

In a nut shell, they give a reader the most essential information: who and what’s happening. Example: John sleeps. Yup, that’s it—two words, a subject and a verb.

What’s the point of a sentence?

Leithart.com gives an interesting history of the sentence, even going so far as to say that our current grammatical structure mirrors society’s preference for prose over poetry. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But I prefer a more simplistic explanation.

Most people are social creatures who like to know what’s going on with family, friends or even the criminal on the TV. Humans need to know “who”, but a subject all by himself is boring, so add action. Even the ancient cave dwellers, drawing on rocks, understood this. They drew people and action (spearing a mammoth). The other journalistic questions (when, where and how) come only after those two essential points are clear.

But authors use fragments all the time, don’t they?

Sure they do, but it creates a specific effect. Remember, don’t go breaking the rules until you know the consequences.

Take a look at one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, and his use of a sentence fragment…

Further up, seemingly set directly into the slope itself, she saw the grimly clinging pines give way to a wide square of green lawn and standing in the middle of it, overlooking all this, the hotel. The Overlook.

Workshop Time:

  • What’s the effect?
  • Why is a fragment here better than a full sentence?
  • Your turn—pick up a novel you have lying around. Skim until you find a fragment. What’s the effect? How would the meaning/cadence change if the author used a full sentence instead?
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Posted on January 13, 2010, in Grammar Tips, Writer's Toolbox. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. As a fellow teacher, I see fragments all the time. I am not a writer myself, and so I cling to the rule that a fragment isn’t a sentence at all and must be corrected. I hope that next Wednesday you will be explaining why fragments can and how they should be used. I look forward to altering my perception a bit and maybe understanding a better way to suggest to students that they make their writing stronger.

  1. Pingback: Writer’s Toolbox Wednesday: Rule of Opposites « Koreen's Korner

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