Cut it out with those full sentances! — Rule #23 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #23

23: Don’t allow your fictional characters to speak in sentences. Unless you want them to sound fictional.

Time for all the English teachers to cringe! But it’s true, right?  Do we speak in sentences?  Well, sometimes.  But there should be a good mix of full sentences and fragments.  Heck, even an incomplete thought here and there will help make the dialog seem more real.

And if you are not sure if it sounds real or not, read it out loud.  Even better… have someone else read it to you.  If it sounds weird with a voice attached, then you need a little re-write.



22 responses to “Cut it out with those full sentances! — Rule #23 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

  1. Good points, everyone! Dialogue is what makes the characters believable, so if one of them is a modern teen, then yes, of course, have him/her speak in fragments. Even we adults do it, so it is necessary to include those fragments within the dialogue. I do cringe a little to do it throughout the narrative, although that changes depending on who is doing the narrating, especially if it’s written in first person. 🙂

  2. I do this already. Nice to see you Jenn. 🙂 xo

  3. Love this! Fell into it because I sent an e-mail to the wrong address, and the response made me sure it had gone to another author. Ergo here I am–glad to have found you, and will drop by again. (Have a special post of my own at English Historical Fiction Authors, if you’re interested)

  4. Most everyone I know, which includes a lot of PhDs and Masters, mixes it up in casual conversation. Giving a paper at a national meeting and talking shop during the day? All complete and complex sentences. Hanging out in the hotel bar at the end of the day? A very different matter. 😉 My archaeologist characters may get into some jargon when talking about work, but when they’re “off the clock”? Hello real speak!

  5. For me, the most important thing is that the reader to be able to understand what’s going on. So, while I do put in some incomplete sentences or trail off… I mostly stick to complete sentences.

  6. This is so true. The English teacher in me has nearly stopped cringing. Had to. It doesn’t sound true to our natural speech. Good advice. Sandy

  7. I’m in my reading-out-loud phase of editing now. It’s amazing what you pick up on when you do this. As you point out, you can get a better feel for the dialogue, and I’ve also found it’s a good way to spot repetitive word use that you might otherwise miss. I one page I used the word ‘equally’ four times. And only one other time in the whole manuscript (based on a ‘find’ search). Not sure what was up with that!

  8. I agree. What you don’t want are long sentences and one-sided dialogue that goes on and on. It should be back and forth, full and fragmented when it fits the situation / character.

    I like these tips.

  9. Gwen Stephens

    I love these tips. Thanks!

  10. But folks, she isn’t saying to do this with ALL characters. A writer has to use their judgement and let the syntax of a character’s speech and thoughts build their personality. the examples each of you have put forth are good instances of where precise diction both sets the feel of the character and distinguishes them from the other less precise characters. Even so, you have to be sure to leave some humanity for the reader to relate to.


    Thanks for posting this one. I’d like to add that I often use fragments in the narative as well, both to reinforce that feel of inner thought, and also in action scenes to bulld the tension. Short, choppy sentences force the reader to read faster, which makes them feel the character’s anxiety or urgency. Not everyone would agree with my method, but it has worked for me.



    • Hello Miss Danielle! Thanks for stopping by. And yes, this needs to be used with care and with purpose. We don’t want to sound likes we done didn’t go to no school or nothing 🙂

  11. Oh, boy, I mostly disagree. I’m not opposed to allowing characters to speak in sentence fragments, but a novel is not a representation of real life. Writers should aim for believability more than reality.

    Characters don’t have to sound “real”–they have to sound like the character they are. A character who has a PhD in International Comparative Studies is not going to speak in sentence fragments.

  12. ON the other hand. We sometimes don’t want our characters to speak like ‘real’ people. I imagine a Vulcan wouldn’t be caught dead speaking in phrases.