Quest to Write: Learn the Rules…Then Break Them
Our world is a world plagued by rules. Sometimes those rules are explicit and flat; other times they are silently implied.
Some of these rules can never be broken, because they are there for the set purpose of safety. However, there are some rules that can be broken, and sometimes must be broken, for the higher good of sheer mastery.
Writing rules fall under this category. There are rules in writing, and you must learn and obey those rules. But once you have learned the rules…then the time has come for you to break them. Otherwise, you risk common writing. Common writing oft lacks eloquence. Thus, in another strike in the quest against banal writing, I explore the ways to break free of the fettered ways of writing.
Writing Rules: Learn Them FirstIt is essential that we first learn all the writing rules. These writing rules of which I speak may sound strange, nothing more than jargon of the writer’s craft–but the writing rules are, in fact , known to everyone. These rules are the simple rules that you are taught in school, such as:
- Never begin a sentence with And or But.
- Sentences must contain a verb.
- Nouns and verbs cannot switch functions
- Try not to repeat the same phrase, noun, verb, adjective in a paragraph
These are things that we all learn. We are taught that, should we write without obeying the latter rules, our writing will be bad. Points will be taken off on essays and papers should we begin a sentence with ‘and’; we shall be penalized if we use the same word or introduction over and over and over again.
But then–why is it that the great writers of our age and of ages past directly disobey the writing rules, and are still considered great?
Why is it that Shakespeare is proclaimed ‘The Great Bard’…but he makes nouns verbs, and vice versa?
Why is it that Faulkner is lauded so highly, but breaks so many rules of writing?
The answer is this: writing rules must be learned, but then they must be broken, if mastery is to be accomplished.
When to Break the Writing RulesSo then, it seems as an inescapable ring has been erected. We cannot break the writing rules, but we must do so if we are to achieve some glow that is given off of masterful writing.
The situation is paradoxical.
The only answer which can be given is this: it is only after you can write eloquently obeying the rules of grammar that you can break those rules. You must first crawl before you can walk.
Of course, there are certain times that it would be inadvisable to break the writing rules, even if your purpose is for the greater good of verbal beauty. For instance, I have lost many, many points on papers for courses I have taken, because I have begun a sentence with “And”, or “But”.
But there are times when the writing rules should be broken–must be, if mastery, eloquence, beauty, is to be achieved.
These times cannot be set out in a standard guidline to which you can refer, because there really is no possible way to do so. For just as every writer and their style is unique, so is the breakage of rules.
And this is where eloquence, where rhythm, enters; where eloquence and rhythm play a role.
In order to be eloquent, in order to maintain a certain rhythm already set in your writing, it sometimes is imperative to breach the damming barrier that rules have erected. If you are a good writer, that breach is inevitable.
The breaking of rules by writers is often unintentional. Skilled writers often write what they hear in their minds; their minds do not take the time to structure an already-eloquent sentence into something more suitable to our rule-worshipping world. The words flow from the mind to the fingers to the page, without halt or check.
Effects of Rule-Breaking
With every action, there is a consequence. Writing is no different, and I’m not talking about plot structure here, folks.
When you break the rules–any rules, not just the writing rules–you must be prepared to stand firm during the eventual onslaught of consequences. With writing, you may have to take a lot of flak, flak from editors, readers, and even other writers. “You’re writing is too wordy, too hard to read.” is a whining chorus often repeated, in response to your first piece of writing that breaks the rules.
But this will wane, if you continually break the writing rules, and eventually, less eloquent people will see past your disobedience, and catch a glimpse of pure poetry, pure beauty in the form of carefully selected words, written black against a white page.
One Word of Warning…
Although I encouage you to break the writing rules, and strike back against the pervasiveness of writing that is flat and banal, I must also caution you.
My words of caution are these: do not think that you can break all the rules at once, in one piece of writing. Not yet. To break multiple rules multiple times requires great skill, skill that writers like Faulkner commanded.
Break one rule at a time, until you can break them all at once.
So strike back against ugly writing, strike back against rigid stucture! And most of all, quest to write with eloquence, and with beauty.