The Rulebook

Today on Chase Connor Books, I felt that it was time to announce a hill I’m willing to die on. Buckle up, my friends!

Readers probably won’t be as bothered by this as my fellow writers might be…

Grammar, spelling, structure, tense-agreement…there are a lot of ways to make mistakes when writing a story. When it comes to writing, especially in English, there are so many grammar rules that a person can easily mess up without even realizing it. With practice, patience, and education, a writer becomes better at following all of the rules, but in the end, we’re all still humans. We’re probably going to make mistakes no matter how well we write. It’s just a fact of life.

I imagine Joyce Carol Oates sitting at her desk and muttering: “Fuck me.” quite often.

These rules are in place to make the messaging clear, to convey information accurately and concisely, and to help with readability. Rules are good. We should all learn The Rules and follow them as often as is needed in our writing. As far as I’ve seen, there aren’t many writing rules to get angry about. Some rules seem arbitrary–and, admittedly, some are a bit outdated–but they’ve all served a purpose at some point in their existence.

I can think of at least a handful of English writing rules that seem unnecessary and/or outdated and their stringent followers can be quite pedantic. A misused semicolon will have them declaring a book is utterly unreadable. That is neither here nor there.

The Rules are there for a reason–to make people better writers and conveyers of information–and it’s good to learn them to the best of one’s ability. For me, that is not up for dispute. The Rules are simply good.

Now…here’s where I declare that I will gladly die on a hill.

Rules are meant to be broken. Even proper grammar rules. Rules have their place, but when it comes to creative writing and storytelling, sometimes the rules do not apply.

If a college student is writing a dissertation or a thesis, the rules should absolutely be followed to the letter. When writing a work email, the rules should be followed for professionalism. If you are writing a note or letter to someone you are not well-acquainted with, it is best to fall back on following the rules out of respect and for the sake of clarity. At least until you are more familiar with the person and know their communication style.

Creative writing is another ball of wax.

Novels are not always written in a formal structure. The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Push by Sapphire, and Moonrise by Sarah Crossan come to mind immediately. Their structure does not conform to The Rules. The authors–though educated and aware of The Rules–chose to tell a story in a creative way that best honored the story. When a rule needed to be broken, they broke it.

Often, in first person POV, the reader is reading the story in the main character(s) voice. People often do not speak and convey information by The Rules. Some people do, but for the most part, people speak in a way that fits their personality, not the criteria established by the Grammar Police. If a writer wants to immerse a reader in the first person POV and make them feel like they are looking through the main character’s eyes, they may choose to write the story the way the character would tell it verbally. Mistakes and all.

That doesn’t make the author wrong or their story lesser than other stories written 100% by The Rules. It’s simply creative writing. It’s artistic.

Even if a writer wishes to follow The Rules, stories often contain some amount of dialogue. Even a writer who stringently follows The Rules might break a few when writing dialogue because they want a character’s personality to shine through. Books don’t have all of the devices of, say, a T.V. show or movie, to convey the nuance of characters’ personalities, so writers often have to get creative to make a story shine and connect with readers.

For example, when I write blog posts, I try to write them in my voice. Because we’re connecting as author and reader, and hopefully, in a friendly, informal way. I follow the rules (mostly) where appropriate, but I want readers to feel like they are getting to know me.

Not every story can be told by The Rules and have the impact that is intended.

To me, creativity is hampered when a writer becomes overly concerned with whether or not they will look stupid for not following The Rules. This way of thinking can be limiting and stifling. Following The Rules 100% of the time can take a great story and make it an “okay” story.

Writers should feel free to break all of the rules when writing their story because they can always go back and fix things if their creative way of writing just didn’t work for whatever reason. Creativity is the most important aspect of writing a story. Yes, readability, grammar, structure–all of those things are important–but if a reader is not entertained and inspired, is it a great story?

I don’t think that it is.

That’s just my opinion.

Writing rules have changed and evolved since the dawn of written language. Who’s to say that the rule you chose to break today won’t become common and accepted one-hundred years from now? That’s how the evolution of written language occurs–by adapting to the needs and desires of the people who use it.

So, learn The Rules. Abide by them as necessary for clarity, readability, and respect for the language in which you are writing. Do your best to know those rules inside and out. That way, when it’s time to break them, you know how to do it so perfectly that the Grammar Police don’t even know what to say to you.

Tremendous Love & Thanks,