This post will likely offend many of my writing colleagues and friends who use this technique, but I cannot hold it in any longer. There is a stylistic technique in vogue these days that bothers me to no end. I see it in novels. I see it in articles. I see it in blog posts. I see it on Facebook. It is the breaking up of dramatic sentences into a series of one-word sentences. Consider this: I. Can’t.Take.It.Anymore. Does that sentence read as badly to you as it does to me?
Writers know they are not supposed to use incomplete sentences or sentence fragments, but they also realize that’s a rule they can break from time to time. “The one-word sentence, or more generally the incomplete sentence, is a tool you can use for emphasis,” author and blogger Christine Amsden writes. “Like this. It’s short, to the point, and easily digestible. It calls attention to itself and its brief content, making that content stand out. When done correctly, it is a way to shamelessly exploit a reader’s emotions. Bam! Right there.”
As Amsden points out there is a time and a place for incomplete or one-word sentences, but what I am seeing again and again is very different. It is taking a complete sentence and breaking it up into a series of one-word sentences.
I believe writers use this technique to ratchet up the drama by giving the reader a dramatic signal. Wait for it. Wait for it. Okay, here is comes. The sentence broken up into a series of one-word sentences. You might as well add the words, “This is really important, reader.” For me it has the opposite effect. It’s like the sort of faux drama you see on reality television.
It is akin to the overuse of exclamation points. The legendary Elmore Leonard wrote that a writer gets to use about three exclamation points for every 100,000 words. Why? The words themselves should convey the emotion intended by the writer. The.Same.Applies.To.One-word.Sentences.
If I were to write this post and put a period after every word, how annoying would you find that?
I’m truly sorry if I have insulted my writer friends. Many of you who do this are much better writers than I will ever be. And, having gotten this off my chest, I am willing to admit I could be completely wrong about this.
What about you? How do you feel about this technique? Am I completely wrong?