Between writing and editing two books for clients this month, I’m taking in gulps the very fun Renegade: The Spiral Wars Book 1 by Joel Shepherd. Except for one thing about Joel’s writing I’m thoroughly enjoying this action-adventure galactic empire space opera.
But the one thing? That’s a killer, something that throws me out of the story every time I hit it. I have to crawl back into the story worse for wear resigned to the fact I’m going to be hit with this land mine again.
And what is it?
Now let me backtrack. I think sentence fragments can be very useful in advancing the narrative. Used properly they are like the bullet points in a memo to focus the reader’s attention on a single thought or emotion for good effect.
Consider this example from Pirate’s Luck:
Tinnen slapped the button to open the hatch and the air in the small space rushed out in a blast. Obon let go of Arekan and the vacuum of space sucked him into the black. His last look confirmed what he knew. Each man was laughing his head off.
This is an obviously an action scene with events moving quickly. You don’t want to slow the pacing with too much self-reflection but the dire circumstances our hero is in demands one. The one word accomplishes that. Since it doesn’t have a verb it’s a sentence fragment. But it furthers the narrative and allows the reader to get on to the next paragraph with the emotional impact delivered succinctly.
But what I’m seeing in books today is a slapdash application of sentence fragments. Consider this example from Joel’s Renegade.
At the turnover point Erik kicked the shuttle’s tail around and over, still thrusting to slow them while skidding them around onto a new orbit, chasing Fajar Station and Phoenix. Barely fifteen minutes at these velocities, approaching at plus twenty thousand kilometres an hour.
Okay Joel, I’ll bite. Barely fifteen minutes at these velocities, approaching at plus twenty thousand kilometres an hour what? What happens? What are the consequences? Tell me, because I’m just the reader. I’m hanging on your coattails– your creative vision. What is the worst thing that can happen here, because that is what you are alluding to.
But you don’t finish the thought.
Lest you think I’m hammering on an isolated incident there are more, so many more, such as this:
Then past berthing crew at the grapples, and tight space between bulkheads, secured with netting and acceleration slings where marines could ride out manoeuvres while waiting to board a shuttle. He overhanded up the corridor, past zero-G equipment bays and outfitting where a lot of marines’ gear was secured, then finally made the core hatch.
This one is a little more complicated, incorporating a lot more action, but it is still a fragment, and it is still not showing us what Eric is experiencing in this sequence. And I want to know. Here Eric is in the zero g portion of the ship, without the benefit of gravity to get good action from his muscles and it just begs more information. Such as,
“Heart thudding in his chest, he propelled his body with one hard push of his muscles past the berthing crew at the grapples. With a single touch of his hand to the bulkhead he adjusted his course to navigate the tight space of netting and acceleration slings used by the Marines when waiting for deployment to the shuttles. Cursing, wanting to move faster, he overhanded the equally spaced rungs in the bulkhead as his body fought the slowness of muscle movement in zero-g. He picked up speed, and Eric shot past the zero-G equipment bays where the Marines’ secured their gear. Finally he arrived at the core hatch.”
Now you can pare down the words. That’s what editing is for. Action scenes call for as little detail as possible. But that doesn’t mean you resort to sentence fragments to accomplish that.
Because they just don’t work. So stop writing those awful sentences fragments. Verbs and your readers will thank you for it.
P. S. But don’t let the sentence fragments stop you from reading Joel’s book. Otherwise it is a great read.
Image © Joel Shepherd. Use of low resolution images of copyrighted work is permissible for purposes of commentary under US copyright law.