Editing Tip #73 – Grammar vs. Style

It’s common knowledge that when you’re writing fiction you can break the almighty “grammar & sentence structure” rules… to a point. And that’s my point today.

Image by My Strawberry Rainbow - Deviantart

Image by My Strawberry Rainbow – Deviantart

Lately I’ve read a number of short stories and indie books where it’s obvious that the author intends to use broken sentences in three ways:

1) To realize dialogue

2) To emphasize a point

3) To give authenticity to narrative voice

Most usage of broken sentences falls in the realm of dialogue – because in reality we don’t speak in full sentences. The only thing you really need to remember when disregarding grammar & sentence structure here is to say it “out loud” to make sure what you’re writing feels real.

The next most common usage for broken sentences is to emphasize a point during the narrative – this is a stylistic choice that writers need to make sure they don’t overuse/abuse. If you do it too often during your narrative, moments your work will read choppy; in cases where that happens you risk losing your reader by pulling them out of the narrative instead of what you intended – to draw them in.

The last scenario, wanting to bring authenticity to the narrative voice, crops up with the use of first person narrative and stream-of-consciousness writing. The general rule of thumb is: don’t treat these two points of view the same – because they’re not. Yes, broken sentences in stream-of-consciousness writing makes complete sense because we are immersed in this character’s thought patterns. However, you have to watch that you don’t over do the reality of this – it’s hard to read. And if it’s hard to read you risk losing your audience. When it comes to standard first person narrative (POV) you should only be using broken sentences for the first two reasons – otherwise you’re back to the choppy problem.

NOTE: It is not a writing style to constantly use broken sentences with first person narrative.

Finding the voice of your narrator is crucial, as is being aware of how your writing affects your audience. You don’t want the choices you make to alienate or distance your reader from the story. Looking at this aspect of voice and style should happen in draft 2 or 3 – after you’ve done your major content editing but before you have a final copy edit done.

Happy Editing 🙂


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Categories: Editing

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