There are many ways to provide dramatic tension in a story. The plot should do most of the work, but most writers can use sentence fragments (aka dependent clauses, or what I call the One Phrase Paragraph) on occasion to highlight a moment in the story—the “gasp” moment. Here’s one example:
Charles walked slowly up to the pedestal, unable to take his eyes off of the sheet that lay over what seemed to be a circular object in the center. He reached out a trembling hand, and lifted the sheet away. And there it was.
The legendary Orb of Dreams.
Yes, highlighting the moment in this way can be dramatic. Let us say in the above case, Charles has been searching for the Orb of Dreams for ten years, in order to stop a demon from destroying the world. In this case, go for it; use that fragment. Like other word tricks, however, it quickly becomes overused and loses its impact. For example:
James walked down the stairs, expecting to see the family at the table still eating, but everyone had left, and he was alone.
With the dishes.
On the table.
For him to clean.
Relying on any sort of word trick is of limited value, because the reader gets sensitized to and tired of tricks quickly. The above example uses One Phrase Paragraphs one after another, but simply scattering them throughout your text can be similarly tiring:
Jeannie wasn’t going to board the craft. Not in this lifetime. She knew better than to trust the workmanship of the lower echelon workers. Inferior craftsmanship. It was a death trap. Bad news. She had to find some other mode of transport. And fast.
Staccato sentences make for rocky reading. Keep in mind that a period stops the reader. The more periods there are, the more often the reader has to stop, and stopping every two or three words gets old very quickly. Better flow means the reader doesn’t have to stop in her or his tracks all the time:
Jeannie wasn’t going to board the craft. Not in this lifetime. She knew better than to trust the workmanship of the lower echelon workers. Inferior craftsmanship equaled death trap, and that was bad news. She had to find some other mode of transport, and fast.
Making one phrase an interior thought using italics, or combining a few sentences, or both, leads to a smoother read.
Looking for more tips? Here’s what’s up so far. More to come!
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