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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Starting sentences with conjunctions

   
Author Topic: Starting sentences with conjunctions
thexmedic
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I was reading some crits just now and I came across this quote by kings_falcon

quote:
As anyone who has had me critique their stories knows, starting a sentance with an "and" or "but" is a real nit for me. I don't mind it once or twice, but the temptation is to overuse it.

This was something I'd never thought about before. I'm pretty sure its something I do quite often. I personally quite like it as a pacing device, but I tend to like passive voice and lots of subjective clauses so, I'm not sure I should pay attention to me.

Basically I was wondering if other people found it annoying/a trait of amateur writing.

NOTE: I'm not in any way, shape, or form attempting to get people to dump on kings_falcon's opinion. This really is for my own edification. I'm working on a novel at the moment and I really want to have it in as marketable state as possible.


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Christine
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I'm pretty sure King Falcon said it best already -- it's find from time to time but not too often. I myself use this to help with pacing but everytime I use it I ask myself, "Is there a better way?" (Note: not, "Is there another way?" for surely there is.)

I guess I use this device about once for every 2-3k words. I don't think I've ever commented on other people's use of it but I would if I started to see if every page or certainly every paragraph.


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luapc
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There are no rules to fiction writing, there are only good suggestions. I've seen all sorts of improper things in published material, as I'm sure most of us have. That said, I would agree with kings_falcon--basiclly that anything done in excess becomes noticable and irritating to readers. A few instances of broken english are probably a good thing in most fiction, but I would suggest to avoid over-using them. The hard part is determining what constitutes over-use.

If you find, as a writer, that you are using improper English repeatedly, such as sentence fragments, starting sentences with 'And' and 'But', or single word sentences, then maybe you're using these devices too much. I would suggest using anything like this sparingly and only if no other option exists, especially as a new author, no matter how good you write. Once famous, you can do whatever you want, but until then, things like this are more than likely to cause roadblocks to getting published.


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HSO
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An abundance of anything (overusing), or crutch phrases, or other style quirks are things to consider when evaluating your manuscript's readiness, sure. In the case of starting a sentence with a conjunction, it's perfectly valid. AND one person's nit is another's style. Look at Card, for instance. He uses AND and BUT as sentence starters probably more than any author -- he's aware of it, too. BUT he still uses them anyway with wild abandon. (He also has a tendency to write the longest sentences the modern fiction world has ever seen, but that's also his style, one could argue.)

What you need to look out for is repetition. If consecutive sentences or even paragraphs start with a conjunction, and you weren't aware that you were doing so, then editing them may be worthwhile. AND if you did so deliberately, then so be it.


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trousercuit
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So I think I start a lot of my sentences with conjuctions. But the problem is, I don't actually know which words are conjunctions. Although if I thought really hard about it, I might be able to figure it out. So I looked it up on Wikipedia, and found this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conjunction_(grammar)

Because I really had to know. And I found out, so now I can identify them leading my sentences and eliminate them. Or replace them with a descriptive phrase.

And it came to pass that that exercise hurt. Yet I feel I'm better for it, somehow.


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pooka
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Starting a sentence with a conjunction is not improper grammer. Like anything, if it starts to stand out, it should be scaled back. Sometimes the nitpicker just has OCD, as opposed you you having legitimate nits. I think a sentence starting with a conjunction is much better than a run-on in most cases. But there isn't a hard and fast rule for what is or isn't a run on sentence.
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Silver3
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I start a lot of sentences with conjunctions too. As everyone already said, it's a matter of balance. If you use them too often, you might want to cut back on them (although Christine's "once every 2k-3k" is a bit extreme for me). Check also if you don't use the same too often.

But other than that, I have to admit it's not a thing that's ever bothered me. I can get pretty nit-picky about grammar, but I've yet to comment on excessive use of it.


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kings_falcon
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Hey, I don't have OCD. Oh wait, maybe I do.

I don't take the question as a dump on my comment. Everyone has thier opinions and this happens to be one of mine. It came up in the movie Finding Forrester and has sort of found a place in my heart since then.

For me it becomes an annoyance when a writer relies on conjunctions to start a sentance too often. Generally, there is a better way to say what you want. BUT, I don't mind it at all in dialog especially when it is a character trait. I also have to confess that I do it too but I try to limit how often I do so.

As I said, there is no hard and fast rule against (or for) using conjunctions to start a sentance, but when you do, you have to be careful not to overdo it. My standard for overdoing it is when the mechanics of writing become obvious. I don't want the conjunction to be a roadblock to my getting to the story.

[This message has been edited by kings_falcon (edited May 30, 2006).]

[This message has been edited by kings_falcon (edited May 30, 2006).]

[This message has been edited by kings_falcon (edited May 30, 2006).]


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Spaceman
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Starting a sentence with a conjunction can be used to great effect when done at the right time. There is nothing wrong with it provided the first clause is implied.

"But, you promised!"


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Dude
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Spaceman's example is dialogue, which is totally different than narrative. Just about anything goes in dialogue.

The use of a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence is bad grammar, but it can be used upon occasion for effect. I usually do comment when I find this too often during a crit. Often times the conjunction can be cut out without changing the meaning of the sentence--it is just there from habit. Other times, the sentence should be connected to the one it followed. But the author made it a separate sentence for some unknown reason (yes, that was intentional). I have noticed quite a few people that seem to really like this habit for some reason. It's just another thing to look for in your writing if you tend to overuse it.


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Survivor
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It isn't really a question of grammar. Of course, I don't believe in grammar in the first place, but let's put that aside for a moment. The issue is whether it makes any sense to use a conjunction at the beginning of a sentance, and whether the sense it creates is the sense that you intend.

Very often, the answer is "yes". But if you get into the habit of using conjunctions to begin all your sentances, then the answer will start to be "no" rather more often


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Spaceman
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The dialog example was to illustrate an implied clause. Here is an example of using it for effect. The periods tend to slow the narrative, giving the impression of the events happening over a longer period of time than it would if written with correct grammar.


The car kept rolling down the hill. It kept rolling. And rolling. And rolling, until it came to a halt at the bottom of the lake.

[This message has been edited by Spaceman (edited May 31, 2006).]


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trousercuit
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I suppose you could put in more periods to slow it down even more, then.

The car. Kept rolling down the hill. It kept rolling. And rolling. And rolling. Until it came to a halt. Bottom. Lake.

Hey, that works! Someone call Ernest Hemingway and tell him the good news!


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wbriggs
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quote:
Other times, the sentence should be connected to the one it followed. But the author made it a separate sentence for some unknown reason (yes, that was intentional).

Certainly it's fine (and funny!) to make the commentary provide examples to prove one's point! And, yes, that example is clunky.

But the fact that it's possible to misuse something doesn't show that it can't be used correctly. It's the same. As with sentence fragments. They can certainly be clunky and amateurish. Can they also be effective? In four words: yes.


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pantros
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The only time you want to start a sentence with a conjunction is to seperate and draw attention to the distinctions.

Use it rarely, very rarely. But, it's okay to use it.


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thexmedic
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This is awesome!

Thanks so much guys. 1st draft a few days from completion then it's time to hunt down those excessive conjunctions and kill them.


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trousercuit
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It's simply amazing that so many of us are so unbelievably clever as to start sentences with conjunctions in all of our posts!

I love you guys! *hugs*


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pooka
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Well let's try one without:

quote:
I think a sentence starting with a conjunction is much better than a run-on in most cases, but there isn't a hard and fast rule for what is or isn't a run on sentence.


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Spaceman
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We've worked that to death. Let's talk about ending a sentence with a conjunction and.
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Survivor
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Well, that's just fine, but it's kinda cheating to use the conjunction as an object.
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trousercuit
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And?
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Spaceman
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quote:
And?

Ooh, brilliant! Starting and ending a sentence with a conjunction!


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thexmedic
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And yet...
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pooka
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It doesn't sound great, but I have ended sentences "blah blah blah, however."

My sister said I was the only person she'd ever met who didn't score 60+ on the TSWE that used to come with the SAT. (Test of Standard Written English). It was multiple choice of the same sentence written different ways and you marked which one you prefer. IICR.

[This message has been edited by pooka (edited June 01, 2006).]


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trousercuit
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Oooh, that one KILLS me! I've seen it in too much prose, done for effect. It has an effect, all right. It makes me want to wash my eyes out with alcohol.

And yet. And yet.

And then the "yet" thing goes in this paragraph.

ARGH!


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ChrisOwens
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Passive voice. To-be verbs. Abverbs. Gerunds. Now one more thing to have anxiety about...

Then again, I like OSC's rule of thumb, that fictional writing should sound like a real person talking. Overprecision is the mark of sticklers and snobs, not the sort of narritive voice that a reader could identify with.

To be sure, I had one WIP that took this to an extreme and used dialect too prounounced, and sometimes inconsistently, but hopefully I learned my lesson.


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thexmedic
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I do two reads whenever I edit. With the first one I remove all the adverbs, the, "as" and "ing" clauses, etc. (and now the conjunction thing).

With the second I'm just looking for readability and I find I put a lot of that stuff back in.


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Spaceman
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Then why don't you do the second pass first and avoid all the extra work?
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