Step Up Your Writing Style
With the Use of Sentence Fragments

Man with sentence fragments

Be on the lookout for literary devices that can step up your writing style. When writing does not bore the reader, and she looks forward eagerly to reading more of the story, you have succeeded in your goal. One way of making your writing more engaging is with sentence fragments.

Sentence fragments are a group of words or even one word that masquerades as a real sentence. An expression of amazement such as “Harumph” or “Wowzers” can step up your writing.  Such expression in a story gives the reader a direct pipeline into the emotions of a character. These expressions invite dynamism and engagement into your narrative.

Wilbers tells us “There is nothing like sentence fragments to punctuate your point. But take care not to overuse them. They can become distracting” (174).

The point of not overdoing the sentence fragment cannot be stressed enough. It can make the best writing unpalatable. 

I ordered tortilla soup the other day through room service. The previous two times I ordered it, the flavor was good but it lacked salt. When ordering this time, I requested a packet of salt with the soup and was told no problem. However, when I received the soup, there was no salt packet. To my dismay, salt had been added. Too much salt! I could not eat it. A delicious soup, ruined!


In other words, don’t over-salt your story. It will not be palatable. (Did you notice the two sentence fragments in the above paragraph—Too much salt! and A delicious soup, ruined!?)

Wilbers gives us information regarding grammar in relationship to sentence fragments:

According to traditional grammar, sentence fragments are unacceptable. According to modern usage, however, they’re fine. In fact, they’re more than fine. With our hurried pace of life, we’re moving increasingly toward shorter forms of communication, so look for more frequent use of fragments in the years ahead. They set a fast pace. They move thought quickly. And efficiently. (175)

Here we see that Wilbers ends his paragraph with the sentence fragment, "And efficiently." We didn’t lose our train of thought when he added this. We understood exactly what he was conveying.

Language holds up a mirror to real life. When we speak, we often do not speak in complete sentences. We often murmur words such as, “Nice,” when we try on a beautiful pair of shoes, and they fit just right. We also leap to our feet and belt out the words, “Way to go!” when our team scores a point. 

Using sentence fragments to step up your writing style is a smart decision since it brings a touch of reality. Your narrative becomes more relatable. It makes the reader comfortable with your style.

Read more of what Wilbers says regarding sentence fragments.

Step Up Your Writing Style by 
Studying Examples of Sentence Fragments

Woman studying

Many writers have mastered the art of sentence fragments. They know the impact it will have on the reader and as Wilbers stated above, writers know not to be too heavy-handed with them. 

Consider this example. “The deluge swiftly formed rivulets around my knees. A circling cyclone, binding me. Oh, the fear.” If fragments were not used, the sentence would read, “The deluge formed rivulets around my knees. It was a circling cyclone. It was binding me. I was fearful.” The former was tighter in form, resulting in being more poignant. The fragments give a peek into the protagonist’s fragmented thoughts. When we are in trouble, our thoughts are short-circuited.

Here are other examples of writers who use sentence fragments adeptly in their stories.

Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini

Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison

Hosseini gives us this example: “One year a neighborhood kid climbed a pine tree for a kite. A branch snapped under his weight, and he fell thirty feet. Broke his back and never walked again” (52).

The sentence fragment Broke his back and never walked again lets the reader know what happened to the boy without using a complete sentence. The reader did not get confused. On the contrary, the sentence fragment drove home its point succinctly, making the writing sound natural.

Morrison gives us another example: “When he stood up from the supper table . . .  and turned toward the stairs, nausea was first, then repulsion. He, he. He who had eaten raw meat barely dead . . .” (148).

In Morrison’s example, we can feel the character’s distress. The sentence fragment, He, he suggests that one is struggling to maintain coherent thought. This is due to stress relating to a horrible memory. Morrison follows up with another fragment. He who had eaten raw meat barely dead . . .

It's wise to write in fragments when trying to portray the character's emotions.

As you can see, you can discard the rigid bounds of using complete sentences. That can be considered a thing of the past as long as the use of sentence fragments integrates seamlessly into your narrative. 

Step up your writing style by transforming your narrative from blah to awesome. From black and white to color. This literary device is a tool. Practice it. Take note of it when reading works by others. Soon, you will see your writing take on a new life. How exciting!

Images created with Dream by Wombo

Wilbers, Stephen. Mastering the Craft of Writing - How to Write with Clarity, Emphasis, and S. F&w Publications Inc, 2014.

Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.

Morrison, Toni. Beloved: A Novel. Vintage International, 2013.