Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Breaking All the Rules

Anyone who reads my writing knows that I often write in incomplete sentences. It’s a technique I use more frequently in my blog writing than in my book writing, but sometimes, I’ll do it there too. Mostly with dialogue (see???).

Now, before you go thinking that I’m a bad writer, or that I had horrible teachers, let me tell you that that is not the case.

Growing up, I was fortunate to have some really great writing teachers. Up through middle school, I lived in one town and the teachers did a great job in teaching us the grammar rules. But they also taught us, or me at least, when it was okay to break those rules.

For example, as a child, I was told it was never okay to start a sentence with the word, “because.” Yet, because I read so many books, I saw plenty of writers who did just that. In the beginning, my teachers would correct me. But eventually, when they saw that I was doing it occasionally, and using correct punctuation, they let me break that rule, because it was obvious I knew what I was doing.

When I moved right before high school, I encountered teachers who were equally as good, yet less willing to break rules. My previous teachers had taught us a more organic, less planned, way of writing. My new teachers expected everything to be outlined and planned before we ever put words on the page. Unable to write that way, I quickly learned to write the paper first, then the outline. I’d hand in the outline, make any necessary changes to my rough copy and then turn that in at the correct time. It was the only way I could write.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve gotten a bit snarky and that snark has found its way into my writing voice, which is why occasionally I will write in incomplete sentences. I usually do it to make a point or to draw attention to something. While I’m sure my English teachers might cringe, my early ones, at least, would probably understand my intentions.

I still make grammar mistakes--everyone does. But I firmly believe there are some rules you can break. The key is to learn the rules, and then learn when to break them!


  1. Agree with all this, Jen. I had a very traditional English grammar education, and have had to adapt to modern usage - especially with commas, and also not using 'that' quite so much!

  2. I often think the "rules" for writing romance force us to abandon some proper grammar that really should be used, but perhaps in a different setting.

  3. Very true. I think it depends on what you're actually writing. If it's dialogue or even someone 'thinking', then using 'proper' grammar could make it sound very stilted, and people often break grammar rules anyway. In description, however, I think we have to be more careful. I remember cringing when, in one book I read, the author kept writing things like 'he was stood by the window' or 'she was sat on the couch'!

  4. Ugh, I couldn't finish a book written like that.

  5. The book actually has 10 five * reviews! There was only 1 one * review that commented on the terrible grammar, so maybe most readers don't care - or don't even know the rules!

  6. I'm a firm believer that only a practiced poet should write free verse...and only grammar gestapos get to break grammar rules.

    And so I, with a background in proper grammar/style/rhetoric as firm as a steel girdle, often gleefully break the rules. Oops. Was that a misplaced adverb? Hahaha. Who cares?

    You go, Jen! I'm with you!

  7. I think I'm a grammar gestapo, Erin! Misplaced adverbs I can (usually) cope with, split infinitives make me wince! And as for dangling modifiers!
    Great article here about grammar http://theweek.com/article/index/241295/7-grammar-rules-you-really-should-pay-attention-to

    PS I don't always obey the subjunctive one!

  8. I break a lot of rules when I write, too. Especially, as you pointed out, with dialogue. Which I think is more accurate and realistic. People tend to speak in ways that are not grammatically correct.

    I think breaking rules is also a way to develop that elusive 'voice' every writer strives to have. If we were all following the same rules in the same ways, a lot of writing would sound very similiar.

    And what's the fun in that? :)