Just one example of a fused sentence can bring the quality of your writing down dramatically.
It’s not as common as comma splices, I’ll give you that. Comma splices happen all the time in your writing, which I talked about last week.
Comma splices happen in everything. Fiction. Non-fiction. Academic writing.
Comma splices are the cause of a million red circles on students’ high school essays.
But fused sentences happen a lot too, and they are even more problematic than comma splices. At least in a work of fiction, you can make the case for comma splices in terms of the rhythm of your sentences, the pacing of your current paragraph.
There is, however, no excuse for a fused sentence.
Unless you have a character shouting dialogue that comes in the form of stream of consciousness — “Mom I don’t want to go to the party I don’t want to go don’t you hear me!” — I don’t really see a place for fused sentences even in your most fantastical of fiction.
A fused sentence is easy to miss when you’re reading through your work again. It often looks like a perfectly fine, grammatically correct sentence that begins with a capital letter and ends with a punctuation mark.
The big problem with a fused sentence is that it smashes two independent clauses up against each other in a way that won’t make sense to most of your readers. The connection might make sense to you, but that’s not enough.
Here’s a typical fused sentence in a work of fiction…
Karen ran as fast as she could down the school hallway the six-foot-tall gargoyle was chasing after her.
When you’re reading through your sentences fast, that sentence might seem okay. This is a moment of suspense, after all. What reader is going to notice that this sentence is comprised of two independent clauses unnecessarily smashing up against one another?
The sentence ultimately looks weird because there’s no ending to the first independent clause and no beginning to the second one.
It’s sort of like a run-on sentence, although run-on sentences are slightly different because they typically have a coordinating conjunction in the middle of independent clauses, a sentence more like “Karen ran as fast as she could and the gargoyle was chasing after her and her friend was waiting for her outside and Karen was screaming at the top of her lungs,” something like that.
A fused sentence happens when you’re not paying full attention. When you’re flying through that first draft so fast you don’t catch these occasional mistakes that might read all right to some but confuse many of your readers looking a bit more closely.
So how do you fix fused sentences?
There’s not just one way to fix a fused sentence, but keep this in mind: you do need to fix each and every one of them!
The simplest: add a period.
Karen ran as fast as she could down the school hallway. The six-foot-tall gargoyle was chasing after her.
This is the most obvious way to fix the problem. Separate the two independent clauses with a period, and you have two decent sentences. When you have absolutely no idea what to do, this method is probably the one you should go with.
But sometimes this method does make your sentences a little too dry, a little too blah. You don’t want your fiction to read like a report, am I right?
The problematic: insert a semi-colon.
Karen ran as fast as she could down the school hallway; the six-foot-tall gargoyle was chasing after her.
Like with comma splices, this isn’t necessarily terrible. Semi-colons are used to link two independent clauses closely related in thought, and this example about Karen running away from the gargoyle certainly fits under that rule.
The problem is that in fiction writing, semi-colons often look weird on the page. They’re certainly allowed in fiction, but sparingly, I would say.
You could go a step further and write,
Karen ran as fast as she could down the school hallway; she was trying to outrun the six-foot-tall gargoyle chasing after her.
But again, this still looks awkward. There’s too much telling in the example too, so it’s probably best to look for another way to link the two sentences.
The alternate: add a coordinating conjunction.
Karen ran as fast as she could down the school hallway, as the six-foot-tall gargoyle was chasing after her.
Adding a coordinating conjunction basically means adding a single word in the middle of the two independent clauses, such as and, but, or, nor, so, for, as, or yet.
In the case of these two independent clauses, this is an example you could potentially go with, although you shouldn’t in this example use most of those coordinating conjunctions because they wouldn’t make sense.
Using as definitely makes sense, though, and could work just fine, although it’s still not great.
The ideal: add a subordinating word.
When Karen ran as fast as she could down the school hallway, the six-foot-tall gargoyle chased after her.
In many cases, adding a subordinating word will be the ideal fix to fused sentences, the same way they’re the ideal fix for comma splices. That example above is, in my mind, the best version of that particular sentence from everything I’ve featured in this article. .
Notice all I did was add a new subordinating word to the beginning, add a comma after the first independent clause, and changed “was chasing” to “chased.” So much better! (You should always try to eliminate most of your -ing verbs in your writing, but that’s another post for another time.)
Overall, be smart when it comes to fused sentences.
And being smart means recognizing them in the first place. It’s easy to spot comma splices in your fiction but much more difficult to find fused sentences if you’re not looking closely enough.
So read through your work slowly. Read it out loud if that helps, too.
If occasionally a fused sentence rolls off your fingertips when you’re speeding your way through your first draft, fine, don’t worry about it, you can fix it in the second or third draft.
But do try to avoid fused sentences whenever possible. Your fiction writing will absolutely be better for it!