Fragments are a delight to use when they serve a purpose. Last week I discussed the use of fragments in dialogue to lend realism to the speech patterns of characters. This week we’ll explore its use to provide emphasis or impact. A writer acts much like a magician with a bit of sleight of hand. In this case, a fragment can be used to draw the reader’s attention to an important story element or object without being obvious. These fragments can come in dialogue, narration, or internal thought.
In The Innocent, Coben’s character, in a more playful exchange with his wife, repeats only part of her comment to place emphasis where he wants it.
“The video only lasts fifteen seconds.”
“Fifteen seconds.” He considered that, shrugged, and said, “So we’ll extend foreplay” (Coben 19).
Fragments are frequently used to play up the intensity of a situation. In “Bullet in the Brain,” Tobias Wolff writes of a man’s dying moments and the intensity of his thoughts, his memories. These fragments emphasize the beauty of one moment in time in the man’s life.
“This is what he remembered. Heat. A baseball field. Yellow grass, the whirr of insects…” (Wolff 161).
In the intensity of death, the character sees pictures in his mind that represent fragments of memory. The reader feels the intensity of the shorter phrases surrounded by the more detailed description of the overall story.
Prose can speak or it can sing. The writer’s use of fragments can determine how well the story sings.