August 7th, 2012 .

Completely incomplete

Pat Morden

How did I spend my August long weekend? I read, napped, ate, read, walked, read, swam, and then tried to find a little time to read. I started and finished Mark Haddon’s The Red House, a marvellous book about the messes that families get into. Now I’m reading The Pleasures of Men by Kate Williams, a deliciously spooky murder mystery sent in Victorian London. Yes indeed, a perfect weekend.

Haddon is a master of the incomplete sentence, if such a thing is possible. His book begins like this:

“Cooling towers and sewage farms. Finstock, Charlbury, Ascott-under-Wychwood. Seventy miles per hour, the train unzips the fields. Two gun-gray lines beside the river’s meander. Flashes of sun on the hammered metal. Something of steam about it, even now. Hogwarts and Adelstrop. The night mail crossing the border. Cheyenne sweeping down the ridge.”

Rather evocative of that spaced-out feeling you sometimes get as you gaze out a train window , isn’t it?

There’s a warning in it for us more ordinary writers, though. Mark Haddon is brilliant. He can pull it off, and he’s allowed to because he’s writing fiction. Occasionally – very, very occasionally – the rest of us can throw an incomplete sentence into a media release, video script or annual report message, with good effect.

But it’s very easy to go wrong with incomplete sentences. And there’s always a danger that your readers won’t realize you did it on purpose! Next time you’re tempted to do a Haddon, stop and ask yourself why. If there’s no good reason, stick with good old-fashioned subject and verb.

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