December 27, 2012

Do the Rules Apply to You?

I have noticed a number of articles lately which are extoling the virtues of breaking writing conventions and grammatical 'rules' and I think a lot of them make a good point. Some of the best, or most lasting, writing can contain elements that strict grammar nazis or staunch followers of story development codes would find terrifying. But is that reason enough to throw the rules away? Can writers just toss these guidelines aside and be the better for it?

I would argue that there are few writers who should aim to break the rules - at least until they already know that they can follow them. This may be a contraversial statement, but a consious decision to subvert a rule is far more effective than simply ignoring them all for the sake of your 'style'. Problems that arise from the blatant disregard of these rules are usually far larger than the stylistic impact they may have on the whole. Unless you can justify each and every one, you should seriously think about tweaking that style of yours.

The rules are there because they are grounded in a massive amount of truth. You should not jump between tenses in quick succession. You should use dynamic language and active verbs to engage your reader. You should not use conventions that purposefully confuse or mislead your readers.

And yes, styles change. Conventions change. But the current 'rules' are usually there for a reason. They do not produce cookie cutter books or indestinguishable prose. They provide support and guidance for your unique story. And if you are determined to do away with some of them, at least make sure that you can stick to them before you throw them out the window. You never know, some of them might actually grow on you!

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