Tuesday, January 30, 2007

As You Know. Bob.

Study for a portrait.
Francis Bacon, 1966.
oil on canvas.

Recently, a question surfaced over on Miss Snark's about the use of incomplete sentences in first person narrative as well as in dialogue.
While Our Lady of the Red Stiletto agreed that people frequently talk/think in fragments, readers don't read that way.
She suggested writers carefully balance the reality of natural speech/thought with that expectation - since an endless succession of fragments reads choppy and therefore annoying. (And stream of consciousness can be very annoying.)
If we slow down our thought stream and flickering input, we might find that at times we do think in complete sentences. Really. Joyce's artistic illustration notwithstanding. But that's an aside.

However, the question loaned me crayons and got me colouring inside/outside the lines.
Our thought processes and our speech patterns do vary.
We tend to use more complete, formal sentences when we first meet people.
To avoid misunderstanding, we save the elliptical until they are familiar with our patterns, and our habits.
How are you today vs. Yo!
We may always speak complete sentences to people in certain positions.
Was I really going 30 over, Officer? rather than sneakysonofabitchbastard...
Much depends on the character and the context.
Our job is to convey to the reader the impression of reality. Not be a slave to it.

More business vocabulary:

Asminisphere: A rarified layer above the rank and file. Decisions that fall from the adminisphere are often irrelevant to the problems they were designed to solve.

Blamestorming: Sitting around, discussing why a project failed and who was responsible.

Salmon Day: The sort of day when you spend an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die at the end.


James Goodman said...

Blamestorming: Sitting around, discussing why a project failed and who was responsible.

Lol, i've actually sat in a meeting where someone said,"We have to assign blame before we can move on."
Ah, the mob mentatlity is their a finer example of unsavory human nature?

Bailey Stewart said...

In this world of IM, does anyone read complete sentences? As a reader, I've never noticed, except when it becomes stilted. I don't care as long as it flows.

ORION said...

I use many fragments in my writing and I also write in first person.
Guilty on all counts.
Interestingly enough my Putnam editor has not indicated that it is a problem.
Bailey is right.
It must flow.

Anonymous said...

For a second ther I mistook Francis for Nathaniel and had rebellion on my mind.

I agree about writers (and readers!) not becoming slaves to reality. I think that is one point where this discussion meets the one a few posts back about grammar rules. -V95

Bernita said...

Perhaps the "process" has taken the place of accountability, James.

I certainly hope people read complete sentences, Bailey! Remember,not all the world is wired.

That's encouraging, Pat.
Especially since I am extremely fond of sentence fragments - though I probably use more in blog posts than in narrative.

Think the principal reality of writing, V95, involves a judicious selection of the facts.

Gabriele C. said...

A writer should use the style that comes naturally to her/him; following guidelines makes for stilted writing.

I've been through that with the No Omniscient policy when I started thinking about the writing process, and rewrote several chapters in third limited. Hated the result, hated it. I put the chapters back in omni, left that site (it was not the only stupid advice I got there) and now write what I want and how I want. If I'll get published, fine, if not, I'll survive. Better than I would if I tried to write according to the market and some ever changing rules.

Incomplete sentences? So what? :)

Jaye Wells said...

Bernita, I attended a workshop recently on the use of dialect and reseach in historical writing. The speaker said that many historical writers tend to keep all characters using formal address. However, she claimed it was more likely they were like us--formal depending on the context. It's the formality of the writing in primary sources that causes this confusion.

I know this isn't exactly on topic, but I found it interesting.

Bernita said...

Sometimes, Gabriele, people carve things in stone that the original advisors never intended.
You had good sense.

Bingo, Jaye! Thank you.
You have extended what I wished to convey.

anna said...

I hope I'm not having a salmon day.

as for incomplete sentences --
Read E Annie Proulx's Pulitzer Prize novel 'The Shipping News'
and then tell me they don't work.
For anyone who hasn't read it
it is an absolutely wonderful book. One of my all time favourites

writtenwyrdd said...

I know Bob, actually. My brother and father are Bobs. I've worked for several Bobs. I've dated a couple of Bobs. Perhaps that explains my writing...

As usual, a thoughtful and informative entry. Like any artform (or craft, if you prefer) writing doesn't reflect reality, it interprets it. Even the style of realism in painting doesn't mean photographic copying of reality. Our job is to pull out the details that paint the appropriate word picture to evoke the reaction we deem important. Or something like that.

And, I agree. I think in full sentences a lot. Especially when I'm trying to meditate, lol.

I'm loving these vocabulary lessons, lol. The prarie dog image just won't leave me.

Bernita said...

Something fishy here.
Anna has a new poem up about magic cod.
No one, absolutely no one - especially me - is saying that sentence fragments "don't work."
Not even me Olde Grammar Booke, published about 70 years ago.Not Miss Snark.
She just advised one not get carried away with a narrow "realism."

Thank you, Written.
Very nicely amplified.
We are interpreters, even those who claim to be mirrors.

Kate Thornton said...

A Salmon Day. Yes, here in defense contractorland we have those.

Fragments. I use them all the time, but I think there's a lot to be gained from knowing the rules first and being able to handle the language before getting fancy with it. I love reading natural-sounding dialog.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

LOL...this subject really hits home, because I was having a discussion with a group of teens at church this weekend...I speak teen-speak rather well. When the conversation was over and the kids moved off, a partent asked me what the devil we were talking about!

Bernita said...

Yes, Kate, the art of fragments is more than just a careless scattering of periods.

Exactly, Bonnie, we don't want readers to go "huh?"

Anonymous said...

Good advice all around. You have to find some to blame when the fragmented sentences don't work. I like the way you manage this meeting, Benita.

raine said...

Love the business vocabulary, lol.

I've had many a salmon day in my time. :-/

Bernita said...

I prefer to think of them as more tactics and strategy sessions than "blamestorming," Steve.

And some days seem full of rapids, rocks, and dams, Raine.

Erik Ivan James said...

Other Guy: Good morning, Erik. How are you today?

Me: I'm wonderful. You?

OG: Great! I'm taking the afternoon off to go fishing.

Me: Good for you, guy!

OG: Yeah, it'll be fun. See ya later.

Me: Yeah, later. And I wish you a good Salmon day.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Another thing that I've noticed...(other than the fact that I can't spell...LOL) is that people are so used to IMing and texting, that their shorthand carries over to regular emails and posting.

Sometimes I'm reading something, and suddenly I'm thinking, "Hmmm...they're a writer. They should at least know english."

Then I realize it's text shorthand!

Oh, it took me a long time to learn that in writing novels we don't have to use complete sentences...now I'm learning that in screenwriting, you use complete sentences...*sigh*.

ORION said...

It's interesting how several blogs have been discussing
"rules" over the past few days. I find it compelling.
I tend not to focus on rules.
I look at other authors, such as Camus, Theroux, Conrad, or Steinbeck...
What did they do? How did they do it? Did it work?
Then I look at what I what to achieve in my story.
Is that what I meant to show?
Am I successful?
The writing's the thing...to paraphrase Shakespeare.

Bernita said...

Very neat, Erik.

As long as they don't get too cryptic, Bonnie.

Some people do consider any guides to spelling and grammar as restricting the creative process, Pat.
But I don't think Conrad or Steinbeck particularly flouted them.

spyscribbler said...

Blamestorming??? I love it!

I didn't notice that about people, until you pointed it out. It's so true! We do talk in more complete sentences when we first meet people!

I love it when I learn something I didn't know, but kinda knew but hadn't realized. (Cold medication today, excuse that sentence please.)

Holly Kennedy said...

Blamestorming... Salmon day...
I love visiting your site, Bernita as I always leave smiling and armed with something new to ponder or chuckle about!

Re: your topic of fragmented sentences, once again subjectivity kicks into gear. If I like it, I like it. I don't question why. However, if it's jarring and it pulls me up short, I put the book down and I'm done.

Bernita said...

Know what you mean, Spy.
Like the cartoon of the peanut who went to the doctor and found he had planters warts...sort of.
Hope it doesn't turn bronchial and nasty like some have had.

Nice of you, Holly.Thank you. Takes a lot to make me put a book down.

Jeff said...

With certain characters incomplete sentences are acceptable because it fits their profile. However, overuse can be distracting and frustrating for the reader.

Cynthia Bronco said...

I like to mix it up a bit. As verbally gifted as any person might be, she might let slip a sentence fragment now and then or even, gasp, end a sentence in a preposition.

Scott from Oregon said...

What do you consider an incomplete sent

Chemical Billy said...

Yeah, I'm willing to bet that Camus, Steinbeck and Shakespeare all knew exactly what rules they were breaking and why - not that they didn't care. As Kate said, just like a good jazz musician, you gotta know the rules first...

Bernita said...

Yup, Jeff. The use has to fit both the character and the situation.

Of course, Cynthia. Unless you wish to convey a character who is precise even when the ship is going down.

"These fragments I have shorn against my ruin," Scott.

I agree, Billy. I think Pat was thinking of the osmosis method.

ORION said...

Diffusion please...Osmosis is only the movement of water. (tee hee)
I do not mean to suggest that they did not know the rules but that writing is a pliable and creative endeavor. The minute we think we know how it goes -- someone like e.e. cummings comes along and YIKES! there go all the periods and caps...

Bernita said...

Hee, Pat, my M-W defines "osmosis" as the process of absorption and diffusion...
Capitals seem to have survived e.e.cummings though.
Sometimes I think by the time I learn all the rules they will have changed them.