Friday, November 13, 2009

Fragments and Run-ons - Acceptable or Not Acceptable? That is the Question!

Yesterday, I talked about the joys and dangers of bending grammar rules in creative writing. Today, I'd like to focus particularly on fragments and run-ons. *Note: What follows is strictly my opinion -- a few writers/teachers differ from me on this...

First of all, I feel that too much of a good thing IS too much of a good thing. Too many fragments, too many run-ons, too many ANYTHING can be too much and can overwhelm the reader. And, after awhile, over-use of something makes it lose its flavor, its punch.

So, here goes: I think fragments are completely, totally acceptable in creative writing. They can be used in powerful ways. For emphasis. For drama. For...well, you get the point. Fragments are just what they sound like - pieces, fragments, of whole sentences. Sometimes, there's nothing more striking than seeing a fragment planted in the middle of a long, descriptive passage of text. A fragment, because it's usually brief, tends to be eye-catching and effective. Again, not that fragments should be terribly over-used (or even used at all, for some writers - it's your choice). But I personally love them. Love them!

Now, let's talk run-ons. Here's where some might differ from me. In fact, a well-known, best-selling author of women's fiction (who shall remain nameless) apparently adores run-ons. So much so, that nearly every sentence of hers is a run-on. Maybe it's the grammar teacher in me, but it drives me nuts, lol. I want to get out my red pen every time I read her books, which is why I no longer do. It's just too distracting.

Here's the thing I don't like about run-ons. A full sentence (subject/verb, complete thought) is whole, all by itself. Therefore, to add another complete sentence hot on its heels, with only a comma (or nothing at all!) separating the two, feels like too much information at once, even in creative writing.

My suggestion? Separate the two sentences with a period. Or, if you want to get creative, use a dash (which is an informal version of the semicolon). Or, you could add a conjunction in between the sentences, which corrects the run-on automatically.

Here's an example of a run-on that I, personally, don't find acceptable in any case:

Shelly didn't think it was going to rain, she took her umbrella anyway.

Here we have two complete sentences separated only by a comma (essentially, a comma splice).

I think it looks/sounds better this way (and, it's grammatically correct, to add the conjunction, "but"):

Shelly didn't think it was going to rain, but she took her umbrella anyway.

That "but" actually adds to the meaning of the sentence, making it easier to read.

I'm curious - any preferences out there, on the run-on issue? Do you like them, dislike them, or have no opinion either way (either as a writer, or as the reader)?


  1. Fragments, yes. Run-ons, no. Unless you're James Joyce.

  2. I are tedious. Too much thought in one 'sentence'. Better to break up the sentence so it can be absorbed better by the reader. Just my opinion....