Monday, April 4, 2016

Breaking the Rules

I was giving someone a little writing advice last week and this post came to mind. If you missed it the first time around, hope you'll find it useful now! 

"Devotees of grammatical studies have not been distinguished for any very remarkable felicities of expression." Bronson Alcott

When writing fiction, it's okay to break a few rules. Unlike political incorrectness, grammatical incorrectness harms no one, and in general is more pleasing to the ear. A narrative should flow smoothly, not read like a research paper.

I'm not talking about poor grammar, unless your character comes from that background. Even then, don't go overboard with dialect. A little goes a long way. In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White say, "The best dialect writers...are economical of their talents, they use the minimum, not the maximum, of deviation from the norm, thus sparing the reader as well as convincing him."

What I'm referring to is all those prickly little rules we learned in grammar school, such as never end a sentence with a preposition, and never begin one with a conjunction.

"I can see him, up above," is more likely to be said in real life, instead of, "Up above, I can see him." And because of this, I'd rather end that sentence of dialogue with a preposition. But did you notice how I just started two sentences with conjunctions? If you've broken a writing rule, but it passes the natural speech test, you're pretty safe!

Remember, smooth flow and naturalistic dialogue keep the pages turning! Have you broken any rules of writing lately?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Originally posted 8/16/10


Norma said...

I always break them. When my first book was published, I got a long letter from a grammar cop, pointing out ever mistake I'd made (most of in in the dialogues, which was meant to sound as the characters would speak). I corrected all the errors in her letter and sent it back to her!

Maria McKenzie said...

That's so funny--I would've loved to have seen the expression on her face when she opened her corrected letter! Realistic sounding dialogue always breaks the rules;).

William Kendall said...

Realistic dialogue has to break the rules. No one speaks in precise English boarding school style grammar.