Sentences are supposed to contain a subject and an object. Incomplete phrases should be included in the same sentence as the main clause, joined to it by commas or semicolons or the like. Paragraphs should be built from related sentences, and split when you change speaker or focus. Them’s the rules.


A deception.


Not a complete sentence. Used — not only as a complete sentence — but it also sits as a complete paragraph. It must be important?

Next paragraph:


This was the near mythical monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups. The home of two dozen cloistered, contemplative monks. Who had built their abbey as far from civilization as they could get.


This could easily be one or two grammatically correct, complete, smooth, flowing sentences. Instead, it’s two short, choppy sentences followed by an incomplete phrase masquerading as a sentence. If you take the paragraph by itself, it’s a perfect example of the writing of beginners; untrained, unedited, wrong.

Still, any grammatical rules are subject to modification or complete rejection, if the value of the result outweighs the loss in clarity and the offense to the reader’s sensitivities.


A deception.

This was the near mythical monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups. The home of two dozen cloistered, contemplative monks. Who had built their abbey as far from civilization as they could get.

It had taken hundreds of years for civilization to find them, but the silent monks had had the last word.

Twenty-four men had stepped beyond the door. It had closed. And not another living soul had been admitted.

Until today.

Chief Inspector Gamache, Jean-Guy Beauvoir and Captain Charbonneau were about to be let in. Their ticket was a dead man.

So obviously a mystery, though the reader likely would have known this before starting. This is from The Beautiful Mystery: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel. I suppose the author, Louise Penny, is intentionally being blunt and choppy because it’s a detective story and because the protagonists are likely tough, no-nonsense guys (I couldn’t get myself to read too far so I’ll never know). But it’s just too hard to read. Chop, chop, chop. Sentences as well as paragraphs cut into chunks and dumped on the reader, as if she’s slicing meat that’s frozen too hard and ravenous dogs are waiting to be fed. Maybe I wasn’t ravenous enough.


2 thoughts on “Writing in Sentence Fragments

  1. I just started reading the most recent novel by Louise Penny. The book is titled “All the Devils are Here.” Forgive the absence of italics. I haven’t figured out how to do that with my cell phone.

    Anyway, I am having trouble staying engaged with the story, because of Penny’s excessively choppy writing style. I’ve read a few of her mysteries that were among the first books in the series featuring Inspector Gamache. I don’t recall her writing being that choppy in the past, so I wonder when she switched over to that style. I think if she were writing that way in her early novels, I would have abandoned them.

    I recently finished what I consider to be an exceptional novel, so the style Penny has adopted is even more irritating than I might have found it, had I not just been treated to superior prose. Some people only read mysteries. If they judge a book only on the strength of its plot and its characters, Penny’s novels might be appealing. But I just can’t get past the choppiness of her writing. Really, those 1- and 2-word “sentences” are driving me bananas. I plan to go back and look at her early novels, such as “Still Life,” for purposes of comparison
    I don’t expect the writing to be so choppy, but it’s possible my memory is faulty or my standards have become more exacting.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts. Apparently she was a journalist so she must have understood proper grammar so maybe that’s the earlier writing that you remember.

      Short, choppy, incomplete sentences have place but for most writers that’s reserved for high tension moments with lots of action when the characters are reacting and acting quickly. Lee Child writes like this but only when his Reacher is threatened or in the middle of a fight. I could also see it being effective if the situation is not dangerous but the character doesn’t know what’s going on, like they’ve just woken from a coma and the style represents and reinforces their confusion. Maybe there’s some element of that confusion that she’s after but I as a reader don’t want to be jarred and prickled all the way through the novel.

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