What I’m about to reveal may very well cause editors the world over to send hate mail. But you, my faithful readers, must know the truth.
Well, this is actually not some arcane grammar secret, since a simple Internet search will give you the details. I will caution you up front to use this literary device very sparingly, but let me show you the proper, classical way to skirt grammar rules.
Remember the old maxim that one should never use sentence fragments? Most of the time this is great advice, but there are occasions when a fragment can have a powerful impact. This mainly works because the reader, consciously or subconsciously, fills in the blanks and becomes more involved with your prose.
Let’s give the formal definition:
- anapodoton: leaving out a clause to deliberately make a fragment, though the missing clause is suggested by the fragment
The key here is that what’s left out needs to be understandable (if not, you’ve only got a fragment). Here’s a classic example:
If only I were down there on the field.
While we don’t know exactly what the narrator thinks will happen, we do know that delusions of grandeur are in the offering. Or take this example:
Whenever you decide to be reasonable.
Here we know the narrator means that the desired outcome will happen when the audience sees things in the correct way (i.e., the narrator’s way).
As you may have noticed, anapodoton usually works best with dialog or first-person narration. However, you could also make it work with essays, poetry, and even formal writing.
If you use it wisely.
What I can’t promise, however, is that editors, professors, and others deciding your writing fate will see a witty anapodoton instead of a fragment. That depends on how well you can argue your point.