Saturday, September 17, 2016

What's a Grammar Checker?

Recently, I was questioned about my use of sentence fragments, and since I am such an insecure scribe, I began to wonder if I was using them too much, or if I should be using them at all. I specifically find myself using them for emphasis, and to break up unwieldy sentences. And according to all the information I found on the internet -- all from institutes of higher learning -- students of the English language are terrified of them. It seems that your professor will mark your paper with a big FRAG, or SF, or FIX THIS, or something equally horrific if you don't give every sentence a subject, a predicate, and a complete thought.

I thought, wait a minute now. I read 3 books a week. (I used to read as many as  5-7 but even the most avid readers slow down eventually.) I was pretty sure I'd seen a lot of sentence fragments. And since I have more than 150 books on my own shelves, I was curious to find out if I was mistaken in thinking that sentence fragments don't always get your work rejected. So I pulled out some well-known authors from my shelf to see if maybe I was crazy, thinking I'd seen a million instances of sentence fragments over the last 40 years, written by well-known writers of award-winning books. I also thought that when I read these amputated sentences, I understood every one.

These are some examples of bestsellers where the writer made use of sentence fragments for a variety of reasons.

Joyce Carol Oates, We Were the Mulvaneys: "She wished Michael, willed him, to sleep. To relinquish shame."
Stephen King, Lisey's Story: "Suppose it was Scott's? Oh, sweet God, suppose."
Wally Lamb, I Know This Much is True: "See what, specifically? The conspiracy?"
Tawni O'Dell, Back Roads: I tried to think about disgusting things to help me hang on. Rick's fat ass waddling out of Shop Rite."
T. Greenwood, The Forever Bridge: "It was their playground. Their world."
Heather Gudenkauf, Missing Pieces: "It also meant that everyone who had stepped inside Julia's hospital room was a suspect. Including Jack."
Flannery O'Connor, Good Country People: Yesterday she didn't do anything but ramble in the bureau drawer. All she did.

There seems to be many reasons for the writers of these works to use fragment sentences. Emphasis. Explanation. To fast-forward. To add pacing. As many reasons as there are writers. As many reasons as there are stories. So I think I'm safe in using fragments to get my story out there, as long as there's good reason to chop up those "correct" sentence structures.

I never attended an institute of higher learning, and I have only a vague idea where the grammar check function is in my word processing program. Even if I did know where it is, I doubt that I would use it. (I know I wouldn't use it.) I'll just have to play it by ear, and keep on reading good books by great writers who probably don't know where their grammar check function is, either.

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