Question: In fiction, is it okay to begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, yet)?
Answer: Not according to many high school English teachers. The long-enduring rule has been that using a coordinating conjunction to begin a sentence implies a preceding clause to which the sentence should be connected, leaving an incomplete sentence or fragment. However, the majority of modern fiction writers agree that using a conjunction to begin a sentence is an acceptable practice. In fact, creative writers have been doing it for centuries, happily ignoring this “rule” as well as other restrictions, like Thou Shalt Never Use Sentence Fragments or A Comma Must Separate Two Conjoined Sentences. In fiction, the lines between convention and creativity can be blurry.
Coordinating conjunctions include the words: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Beginning a sentence with one of these conjunctions can lend impact or emphasis to the sentence:
I’d really like to go to college. But who’s going to pay for it?
It was a frigid night, with the wind whipping off the lake. Yet she stripped down and dove in anyway.
It is unnecessary to use a comma after a coordinating conjunction. One exception is “so,” which is often used at the beginning of a sentence as a kind of summing-up device, and in this context, it is usually set off with a comma:
So, needless to say, we ended up moving across the country.
Writer’s Relief offers the moral of the story: As a creative writer, if you begin a sentence with a coordinating conjunction, fear not—no grammatical rules have been broken, although it’s best to use this technique sparingly for maximum effect. However, keep in mind that in formal communication, business correspondence, and academic writing, you’d be wise to follow the advice of Strunk and White and avoid starting sentences with conjunctions. And not use sentence fragments. (Kidding!)
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