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I'm not very sure why, but the following sentence structure came out from my mind:

Disclaimer: this is a first draft.

The realization just came to her now. Or perhaps, she knew it all along; it just that she didn't want to accept it. She was alone in a small, compressed space, with the rest of the world very far away from her. And maybe she would never be able to come back to it. Ruth, Benjamin, and the people she loved and cared about—she would probably never seen them again. Things would change. They would change from one state to another, just like ice turns into water, and water into gas.

Is that sentence structure allowed in fiction? Is OK right to use the em dash in this situation? (Does it read clumsily?)

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    Definitely allowed, and appropriate in this case. Except, maybe, I'd rather use an en dash with spaces around it, but that's one of those things that's differently handled in different languages so I'm not sure what's the current rule in English (I saw a few debates about it but I don't know who won ;) ). And you might want to check out the sentence before that one, you have some mistakes in there :) – Tannalein Jun 23 '13 at 13:23
  • @Tannalein You mean the comeback? – Alexandro Chen Jun 23 '13 at 13:26
  • There was also a "she'll would" but you fixed it already :D – Tannalein Jun 23 '13 at 14:24
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    "Allowed" is very broad. I mean, people use all sorts of styles in fiction (to say nothing of poetry!) that wouldn't pass a grammatical sniff-test. Allowed by whom? A particular style guide? Editors at large publishing houses? Reviewers at Amazon? – Monica Cellio Jun 23 '13 at 19:25
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    Please forgive the unrequested suggestion: "Then the realization came to her. Or perhaps she knew it all along but refused to accept it. She was alone in a small, compressed space, remote from the rest of the world. And maybe she would never be able to come back. Ruth, Benjamin, all the people she cared about—she would probably never seen them again. Things would change. They would change from one state to another, just like ice turns into water, and water into gas." (It seems I'm almost a compulsive suggestion provider.) – Paul A. Clayton Jun 23 '13 at 23:37
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No! Absolutely forbidden! The Rule Book XVII of the Writers Inquisition explicitly forbids under pains of corporal punishment!!

Just kidding. That's a pretty standard, rather nice form. I usually use ellipsis where you used em-dash, but both are acceptable (and some use a colon, it's acceptable there too.)

There are a few mild typos/mistakes ( "it was just that she...", "come back", you usually put spaces on both sides of em-dash, plus the last sentence sounds a little cheesy to me... ) but the particular construction is quite common and well accepted. Don't abuse it - too much will be tiring, but using it from time to time is fine.)

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    Damn, I started panicking upon reading the first sentence, ha. Thanks for your feedback. – Alexandro Chen Jun 23 '13 at 13:34
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    You freaked me out too with the first sentence :D May I just add that ellipses have a slightly different connotation. They turn the action down (or pause it), while dashes turn it up (or make a quick shift in action). For example, "But I though..." the speech trailed off, meaning that the character has stopped talking and went quiet (action dying out). "But I thought-" the speech was cut off abruptly by something or someone, causing some different action to follow. In this particular sentence, ellipses would suggest that she's sad, dashes would suggest that she's scared and distraught. – Tannalein Jun 23 '13 at 14:23
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It's not grammatically correct standard written English, but it needn't be. It's perfectly comprehensible and imitates real stream of consciousness just fine.

  • Of course it is grammatically correct standard English. What on earth is ungrammatical about it? – user16226 May 1 '17 at 11:05
  • Well, assuming 'seen' is a typo, the sentence still isn't grammatically well formed. The hyphen represents a break in thought. That's good stream of consciousness and good writing, too. Grammatically formed sentences don't do that, though. – Ryan Haber May 18 '17 at 18:10
  • It is not a break in thought. It is simply a device to put the object of the sentence at the beginning for emphasis. Nothing ungrammatical about it. (Assuming, as you say, that seen is a typo.) Unconventional is not the same as ungrammatical. You can map every word in that sentence to its part of speech and the relationships between them are perfectly clear. – user16226 May 18 '17 at 19:30
  • "Ruth, Benjamin, and the people she loved and cared about—she would probably never seen them again." "...she would probably never see[n] them again." is a complete sentence. The preceding bit, "Ruth, Benjamin, and the people she loved and cared about," is a fragment. It's the referent of "them" as a sort of appositive. But that's not how we do it in standard written English. – Ryan Haber May 18 '17 at 19:34
  • But it's OK. It would be miserable reading a bunch of high school grammars. The writing above is fine. It's good. But that wasn't the question asked. – Ryan Haber May 18 '17 at 19:35
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It's perfectly alright, though it sounds weird in my head because you've drawn attention to that sentence. As a result, I feel like it could be changed in a way that it reads better.

And maybe she would never be able to come back to it. The people she loved and cared about. Ruth, Benjamin — she would probably never seen them again. Things would change.

Or, why not

And maybe she would never be able to come back to it. The people she loved and cared about — she would probably never seen them again. She thought about Ruth, Benjamin. Things would change.

And I agree with SF that the last line just sounds too cheesy. But, your form is not weird at all.

Finally, removing the "I thought" portion

And maybe she would never be able to come back to it. The people she loved and cared about — she would probably never seen them again. Ruth, Benjamin. Things would change.

  • "She thought about" is redundant and should be avoided. – Tannalein Jun 23 '13 at 15:12
  • I see your point, although I submit that redundancy is not bad, but situational. And I think that in a scene that seems to be as dramatic as this one, redundancy might help drive the point home? – markovchain Jun 23 '13 at 15:43
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    @markovchain I'm not sure if it's cheesy. But it has to do with the story. Previously Benjamin talks with Erin about the fact that the concept of things being solid is probably just a human thought. That everything is always in constant change. – Alexandro Chen Jun 23 '13 at 15:47
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    Given the context, I like it. :) I'd suggest referring to that conversation, but it's your call. Something like "Things would change. Benjamin was right. They would change from one state into another..." It just feels better that way because it weaves your purpose of writing the sentence into the sentence itself. And I think it's pretty cool. – markovchain Jun 23 '13 at 15:53
  • Sometimes, to make a point, yes, redundancy is ok. But here, I feel it just breaks the flow. Just saying their names has more impact. If it was something like 'She thought about all the things she never got to tell them', that would be acceptable (maybe because 'All the things she never got to tell them.' doesn't really stand well on it's own ;) ) – Tannalein Jun 23 '13 at 17:28
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It looks like you are referring broadly to your use of sentence fragments in this paragraph. While frowned upon in formal writing (eg. essays, research papers), they are one of the creative writer's tools! They are allowed because they mimic thought and experience, which are not always in fully formed logical sentences. Sentence fragments also allow the writer to vary the sentence length and thus pacing, which prevents a paragraph from feeling monotone and plodding to the reader. Perhaps this structure came naturally to you for this section because you are well-read and intuitively picked up on techniques other writers use!

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The realisation just came to her now...

This is tautology, saying the same thing twice in different words. It probably would not be the best idea. Also, it should be see instead of seen in the bolded part.

Aside from that, there is nothing wrong with your passage, though you probably will edit it in later drafts. Don't worry about that right now. If you can't improve it immediately, leave it in there until you think of something, then you can add that change in a later draft. So long as the problem is out of the way before you send it...

  • No its not, not is that what tautology means. – user16226 May 1 '17 at 11:06
  • Um... pardon? What do you mean by that? – James May 2 '17 at 4:58

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