The final two items on the “Do Not Do” list from January 10th:
And do not begin a sentence with a conjunction
Taking the second item first: conjunctions bridge words, sentences, phrases, or clauses. The word and is by far the most common; others include but, or, yet, as, so—there are many others.
Despite the “rule,” beginning a sentence with a conjunction is at times the most powerful way to create the desired effect.
Below is a section from my fantasy short story, “Nychelle’s Gate” to demonstrate what I mean.
“I am here for my sister.”
“She is of our people,” the Elder said. “You are not.”
The words confirming Nychelle’s banishment stung in a place that used to exist but began to erode first with the rape, then with her escape, and vanished altogether during her time in the valley. Or so she thought.
I had several choices:
Had I chosen to add Or so she thought at the end of the sentence—either by a comma, dashes, or semi-colon—would have 1) made the sentence overly long and awkward, and 2) lost the impact of Nychelle’s realization that banishment held a deep hurt she thought no longer existed. In this case, the decision to break the rule was an easy one.
As with all instances when you choose to break one of the rules, make sure the decision is based on improving the impact on the reader, or for clarification.
Dialogue is a place where beginning a sentence with a conjunction is universally acceptable.
“But you can’t do that,” would be a common speech pattern.
Again, refrain from using the technique too often or it removes the impact and deems the style mediocre, or worse, intrusive.
Sentence fragments (those missing a noun-verb connection or with a dependent clause) are usually better rewritten, but again, there are times when a fragment is a viable and preferable option.
Simply put, a fragment is a group of words without a complete thought.
Went to the store. Who went to the store? No subject
Shot out the door. What or Who shot out the door? No subject
The dog. The dog did What? No verb.
Over the hill. What or who went over the hill? No subject.
At times, a reference to a common cliché is all you need to motivate the reader to finish the thought in their own mind despite being a fragment.
When in Rome . . .
As with conjunctions, dialogue is a place where a fragment is acceptable even by the stodgiest editor. (This sentence is a fragment, but you might not think so by looking at it).
There exists another type of fragment that permeates our culture where tweets, facebook posts, and other social media instances attempt to impact the reader. At least that is the goal, I suppose. You have seen it.
Do. Not. Do.
This should seldom, if ever, be used within prose. See. What. I. Mean?
This concludes the “Do Not Do” list
During the last two months, I have written about the “Do Not Do” list, items repeated often by agents and publishers. The rules (guidelines) are meant to dissuade writers—especially new writers—not from breaking the rules necessarily, but by doing so unwittingly. Overall, the suggestions are correct. You really do not want to have exclamations peppering your manuscript, nor do you want to confuse the reader with improper punctuation or radical viewpoint switches. Likewise, telling rather than showing is often less effective.
Nevertheless, there are times when the rules must be broken, or bent, or ignored completely. My hope in writing about these topics is to show that as long as you, the creator, understand the rules, you will know when they can and should be broken to improve your story. Moderation is key.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
See You on the next page,