The Art of Fragmentation – Differences in Style #7

 

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Wow it really has been forever since I’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? To be precise, it’s been 6 months. I feel like this is becoming a biannual thing at this point- but ho hum, this was only ever supposed to be a casual sort of series, talking about how all different writing styles are valid, so I don’t suppose there needs to be a time limit on that. And since the idea of this series has always been to talk about how writing styles are rarely “good” or “bad”, I reckon it’s appropriate that I’m returning today with one of the most divisive topics of all: the art of fragmentation.

Because technically speaking using fragments in writing is not grammatically correct. Quickly defined, a fragment is a verbless sentence. But I also like to think of it as when a sentence is literally fragmented on a page, in a sort of image poem style, the words dissolving into nothing. Such as…

“Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,

then from my eyes,

my ears, 

my mouth.” 

We Were Liars, e lockhart

If you use a fragment, chances are your Word Doc (or whatever you’re using) will put a glaring red line under it telling you CHANGE IT NOW OR WE’LL LEAVE A DEMONIC CROSS ON YOUR SPELLCHECK. See, there’s a reason your English teacher told you not to use them, they were only trying to help you 😉

But *controversial opinion time*- this argument doesn’t wash with me. Now, I am hardly telling you to throw out the grammar rule book (quelle horreur!); what I am saying is that there may be reasons you can bend them a little. Observe:

van gogh cafe

Here, Van Gogh does something very interesting with perspective. He takes the overhang and moves the line where it falls so that the viewer feels like they are inside the painting. Of course, this is a completely inaccurate and impossible angle, and by rights shouldn’t work at all AND YET it is part of this artistry that makes the painting so compelling. Even better, there is evidence that Van Gogh knew EXACTLY what he was doing here- in his letters to his brother, he drew many of the subjects of his paintings (including the café) often with the correct perspective.

van gogh letter

Not my favourite example (cos I can’t get all the images I want from an exhibition I saw a decade ago) but it does show that Van Gogh did in fact know how to draw houses correctly – *surprise surprise*

Point is, Van Gogh understood precisely how perspective was supposed to work… altering it to suit the effect he was trying to achieve. Thus, this is a prime example of knowing the rule in order to break it.

My point is not just that rules are made to be broken- it’s that without pushing the boundaries art wouldn’t be the same. I’m not saying we’re all Van Goghs, but that if we always shout down innovation there won’t be any Van Goghs (ooh look at me being all self-referential to my old Difference in Style post about innovation 😉 )

So, I hear you ask, what makes fragmentation an interesting artistic choice? Well, quite simply because it can create a compelling voice, mood or tone. It’s particularly useful in first person povs and writing dialogue. Here’s some of the reasons why (and when) it works well:

–          Fragmentation can break up standard speech and make it seem more natural. I’ve heard some people saying dialogue should be written as if there’s an eavesdropper- but here’s the thing, even if you’ve seen the most adept speaker interviewed, chances are at some point they’ve given short, snippy answers. Simply put, we don’t speak grammatically all the time.

–          It can be used to denote trauma or characterise someone as unstable. This is often a huge element in YA and writing authentic teen voices (cos if you’ve ever met/seen/been a teen, you’ll know they don’t speak perfectly). Also, fragmentation frequently appears if you choose to mix things up with an unreliable narrator. Not to get into my whole *unreliable narrators are awesome* view again, the reason fragmentation is a good choice here is that it literally reflects the incoherent or untrustworthy voice of the narrator. To put it simply, if you see lots of fragmentation, you know something’s up with the narrator. It can be the first clue that the mc has unresolved issues.

For me personally, I’ve found many wonderful books that use extensive fragmentation in an artistic and original way. My take is this can feel like narrative poetry. I have found a few beautiful pieces of work that employ this technique, some of my favourite examples being:

While that’s my view, there is plenty of arguments out there to use it sparingly, and that’s more than fair enough. Obviously, there’s a lot like that, so here’s just a handful that spring to mind:

Of course, it’s perfectly okay to not like it at all- you’re on the right side of grammar history 😉 Frankly, the point of this series has always been that it’s a-okay to have different tastes and embrace whatever style suits you best. For more posts like this, feel free to check out the other articles in this series:

Pared down vs Purple prose – Differences in Style #1

The art of Intertextuality vs Innovation – Differences in Style #2

*ALL the Viewpoints – Differences in Style #3

Coherence Vs Incoherence – Differences in Style #4

Telling Vs Showing – Differences in Style #5

Unreliable Narrators – Differences in Style #6

So where do you fall on the fragmentation debate: sparingly, lots-of-it-please or not at all? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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44 thoughts on “The Art of Fragmentation – Differences in Style #7

  1. Crafty Scribbles says:

    I use some fragmentation in my projects. When done correctly, it adds voice to the work. I challenged anyone disagreeing to tell me otherwise.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Sharon Bonin-Pratt says:

    Your title says it all: The ART of Fragmentation. Used with craft and skill, fragments convey a great deal action more than a long, convoluted sentence, and can show the mindset and personality of a character. I fragment when called for and engage in lyrical passages when the savory word better expresses the tone of my story. Other than THAT. No one even notices. Except when it doesn’t WORK. But then. Who’s still reading? Right?

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Margaret @ Weird Zeal says:

    I so agree with all of this! Fragmentation can create a really cool effect when it’s done well and purposefully. Gotta know the rules to break the rules! I love when it’s used to help with the flow, and I love your point about it being used for unreliable narrators!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious says:

    I love fragmentation when crafted and executed with skill. I think a lot of why I fell hard for the mermaid’s voice returns in this one is because of how the fragmentation conveyed additional emotion for me over just the words themselves. I’m also reading Shatter Me for the first time, and the writing style is almost anxious and buzzing, a lot of times Juliette’s thoughts are fragmented on the page.

    What a cool post, and now I have some other books to check out that use fragmentation! I really need to read ATPN like yesterday.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Bookstooge says:

    *TRUMPETS BLOWING* *HORNPIPES PIPING* *DRUMS BEATING* *CHORUSES OF ANGELS SINGING*

    If one is an already established author who has shown that not only do they know the rules of writing and grammar but excel at them, THEN I would accept sentence fragments. Otherwise, get your lazy ass back to writing school for the delusional where they’ll make you feel all warm and fuzzy for being a hack and an idiot.

    (the “you” in that second sentence does not imply a direct correlation to any monkey that reads this, but a general “you” to any lazy ass writer who thinks the rules don’t apply to them).

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Zezee says:

    I think it’s most effective when used in moderation. I like it. Sometimes it’s used to highlight a point or draw the reader’s attention to something. I love it when it’s used that way.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Kelly | Another Book in the Wall says:

    I personally love fragmentation in books! It makes the writing feel so poetic at times! Of course, it isn’t always executed well, but when it is, it can truly make the writing feel so unique! I especially love how you brought up We Were Liars, since I recall greatly enjoying the prose in it! Great post! ☺️

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Jinjer says:

    I took a look at the first book you mentioned, We Were Liars, thought it sounded good, the library had an ebook available, so I started reading and finished it this morning. I can definitely say, in the case of this book anyway, that I like the fragmentation style of writing!

    I like it because that is exactly how we talk sometimes. And it seems like a lot of shows that I watch use it (but don’t ask me for examples because I don’t have any).

    I will check out the other books you mentioned in this post and the links to your other articles in your style series! Good stuff!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Nicole says:

    I think fragmentation is great when used correctly (and sparingly is part of that “correctly”). But this is definitely a case where you need to know the rule in order to break it. Using fragmented sentences just to sound cool is right out.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. waytoofantasy says:

    This is such a great post. I love that you compared it to visual art, makes so much sense. I also think rules can be broken, it’s cool to experiment too. But there has to be a point to it, and some people just get too wild and free with things lol.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. lucindablogs says:

    I love the immediacy and dramatic impact of fragmentation. As you pointed out, it’s quite a natural way to speak (as anyone who has ever transcribed a conversation will know, people often talk in the most ambiguous, incoherent way and yet we don’t even notice it). I feel like if it was done well, you could be pretty liberal with a fragmented narrative – but you run the risk of losing the reader completely.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Amanda @Cover2CoverMom says:

    Very interesting topic! I hadn’t really thought much about it before. I feel like with most “out of the box” narrative styles, it all depends on the tone & plot of the story… I feel like some stories you’d be able to get away with more fragmentation than others. This is why I am not a writer lol I’d never be able to make decisions like this. I’ll leave it up to others 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Sarah says:

    Just like in that wonderful example you’ve given with Van Gogh I agree that when used with a purpose and done well, it’s something that can enrich the story, especially when written from a teenager’s point of view. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Norrie says:

    I really like this writing style when it’s used well and in context. Like in We Were Liars i think it was great. The main character was confused all the time, so it suited her inner voice to talk like that.
    I usually find it poetic.

    Also that dialogue thing… it’s true, most people don’t give speeches in real life convos, and i think that’s one of the reasons why i often cringe when in mysteries the villain gives his own final explanation. Usually it ends up being overly theatrical and just plain weird.

    Liked by 2 people

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