Granted grammar isn't the sexiest blog topic, but it is the root of good writing. Anyone out there who has read through three pages of a third grader's report on Abe Lincoln can attest to the importance of a well-crafted sentence.
Last week I offered a sentence structure primer, introducing you to the four types of sentences often used in standard writing: simple, compound, complex, compound-complex. Hopefully, this all made sense to you, and you have been busy this week picking and pruning your own writing. Perhaps the first task you took to was to ensure that your sentences were not fragments. I know it's not the most delightful aspect of writing, but it is necessary.
Let's practice more this week.
Read the sentences below. Locate the fragments or run-ons. Bonus if you can give them structure.
1. I'm not afraid of climbing trees.
2. I once cherished a majestic maple that stood solidly on our front lawn, guarding the house like some armored knight.
3. The first tree I climbed.
4. It will forever be my favorite.
5. My first best friend.
A run-on is when you have accidentally tied too many clauses into one sentence. A fragment is when you haven't completed your sentence (it's missing a verb or a noun or object). In literature, we do have some rights to ignore these rules in variation. However, I wouldn't suggest making a habit of it. In any case, the sentence structure you choose for your writing should match the tone and voice of your story.
Above, the fragments are sentences 3 and 5. The others are simple sentences.
Let's try another exercise. Each sentence below is either a fragment or a run-on. Decide which is which, and see if you can help them out.
1. When you're in love.
2. Only my father.
3. I climbed higher, up to the very top, and my mother watched the birds even though their nesting season was over and they were preparing to journey far off to the south where they can bathe in the sun's warmth.
4. As if you are dancing longer than anyone else.
5. You can't swim even in the summer because the waves crash and the deep ocean current is so strong.
These may be obvious (fragments are sentences 1, 2, 4; run-ons are 3, 5). However, how do you correct them? There are many choices. Yet the most important piece is missing here. The story. These sentences, dropped carefully within your story, may work just fine. Fragments, run-ons, warts and all.
In fact, the first five sentences at the top are taken directly from page one of my novel, "This Girl Climbs Trees". Fragments can define a character's voice and add tension to the plot. Run-ons serve an equal purpose. The trick is knowing where to place them (and not abuse them).
We can take the second set of five sentences and craft them into a lovely piece of writing as well:
Life is beautiful. When you're in love. Not everyone believes this. Only my father. My mother doesn't understand. Yesterday, she made that clear. We argued. I ran out of the house and straight to my favorite tree. I climbed higher, up to the very top, and my mother simply watched the birds even though their nesting season has ended, and they are preparing to journey far away, to the south, to where the sun's warm rays can hold them close. I want to go with them. I want to fly away and dance in the sky. My mother can watch me. I will float higher. I want to dance. Dance as if I am dancing longer than anyone else. She can stay here on earth. She can sit by the shore and wait for me, for all I care. Silly woman. You can't even swim in the summer because the waves crash so hard along the shore, and the deep ocean current's strength might pull you out to sea. Maybe it will pull her out. She doesn't understand love.
Life is beautiful when you're in love.
Now, it's your turn. Go to your own work in progress. Find the rhythm of your story and pick at each sentence. Are they fragments in need of clauses or subjects? Are they run-ons in need of commas, conjunctions or a divorce?
Give yourself some writing exercises this week. Take one paragraph or section of your story, and write each sentence separately on a sheet of paper (numbered, not in a paragraph). Read each one. Does each sentence stand on its own? Does it have purpose? Does it move your plot forward or reveal character? Don't be afraid to take out those pruning shears and trim away unnecessary verbiage.
Have fun writing, and come back next week for more practice on sentences.