I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now. The main reason is that I keep coming across several writing rules that make little sense to me. Then, I came across a gem of a post by Constance Hale, “When Shakespeare Committed Word Crimes” on TED.
Constance confirmed what I long suspected: when there is tension in a language between what comes naturally and the rules, it’s because someone has tried to shoehorn the language into their idea of conformity.
Does this mean there are no rules? Not at all. It just means that the ones we are taught in workshops and classrooms are not necessarily the ones that matter to actual readers – as opposed to teachers, agents and editors. So, here are my golden rules; the ones no fiction writer should ever break, in my view:
Rule #1: Don’t let your writing get in the way of your story.
I know I say this all the time, but it bears repeating. Fragment your sentences. Break the rules. Hemingway is considered the “master of the short sentence,” but when his stories reach a climax, he will suddenly write long sentences—as long as three or four hundred words even. So, throw caution to your wind. Have fun with the language.
Our language is in a manner barbarous
As I’ve said before, I write in English because I love the language and its flexibility. Its barbarity, as the poet and critic John Dyrden characterized it in 1693, is what it makes it so darn appealing to me. So, I understand the need to preserve the language’s beauty, but don’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Respect and treasure its imperfections, its wildness.
“Our Language is extremely imperfect,” Jonathan Swift, writer and dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, complained to the Earl of Oxford in 1712. “Its daily Improvements are by no means in proportion to its daily Corruptions; and the Pretenders to polish and refine it, have chiefly multiplied Abuses and Absurdities.” And that wasn’t all, Swift added: “In many Instances, it offends against every Part of Grammar.”
So, offend against grammar, if that’s what it takes. Be creative. After all, grammar only has one true aim.
Rule #2: Grammar’s aim is to make the written word as clear as possible.
Everything else stems from that need. Active voice is considered more immediate than passive one, hence the “rule” that is should be preferred. Or, consider use of comma, the one thing that’s bound to create more arguments than anything the Middle East can throw at us. In the example of
“Let’s eat gramma” vs. “Let’s eat, gramma”
it is a comma that separates vegetarians from cannibals. However, use of the (in)famous Oxford comma won’t significantly alter the reader’s comprehension. Therefore, all related arguments are classified in my mind under “pedantic, safe to ignore.” Just use it consistently throughout your manuscript, and I promise you: there’s a grammar book somewhere in the world swearing that your way is the only correct one!
As for the rest of the rules, here is Ben Yagoda has to say in his excellent post, “7 bogus grammar ‘errors’ you don’t need to worry about” (I only mention five here, to encourage you to check out his post for more information):
By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will remain split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive. The method may not be perfect, but it is all I have.
1. Don’t split infinitives
The rule against splitting infinitives — that is, putting an adverb between the word to and a verb — was pretty much made up out of whole cloth by early 19-century grammarians, apparently because they felt the proper model for English was Latin, and in Latin, infinitive-splitting is impossible.
However, English is not Latin, and infinitives have been profitably split by many great writers, from Hemingway (“But I would come back to where it pleases me to live; to really live”) to Gene Rodenberry (“to boldly go where no man has gone before”). So, it’s okay to boldly do it.
2. Don’t end a sentence with a preposition
The idea that it’s wrong to end a sentence with a preposition (from, with, etc.) was invented by the English poet John Dryden… in 1672. He probably based his objection on a bogus comparison with — you guessed it — Latin, where such constructions don’t exist. In any case, there is no basis to the rule in English grammar, and, once again, great writers have ignored it with no great loss to their prose or reputations. On a memo criticizing a document for committing this “error,” Winston Churchill allegedly wrote: “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.”
3. Don’t use “which” as a relative pronoun
The bogus idea here is that only that, never which, should be used to introduce so-called defining or restrictive clauses. For example, “The United States is one of the countries which that failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.” One again, this is totally made up. Geoffrey Pullum, co-editor of the authoritative Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, has written, “The alleged rule has no basis. Even in edited prose, 75 percent of the instances of relative ‘which’ introduce ‘restrictive’ relatives.” The culprit here seems to be the great language commentator H.W. Fowler, who popularized the notion in his 1926 book, Modern English Usage.
In fairness to Fowler, he merely speculated that if writers were to follow this custom (as he acknowledged they currently did not), “there would be much gain both in lucidity & ease.” Language sticklers took that and ran with it, and this idea reigned for most of the rest of the century. Even now, it has a lot of adherents. But it still doesn’t have any justification. One of the great sticklers, Jacques Barzun, advised in a 1975 book that we ought to avoid such whiches. But as Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage points out, on the very next page Barzun broke his own rule, writing, “Next is a typical situation which a practiced writer corrects ‘for style’ virtually by reflex action….”
4. Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction
Except possibly in the most formal settings, there is absolutely nothing wrong with starting a sentence with And or But. A funny thing about the supposed rule against doing so is that no one has been able to find a book or authority that has ever endorsed it (with the exception of a single 1868 text turned up by the scholar Dennis Baron). But countless people feel this is unacceptable, possibly because the notion was pounded into their head by some middle school grammar teacher. Get over it!
5. Don’t use the passive voice
Passive construction can indeed propagate obfuscation, as well as wordiness, and thus should be used judiciously. But there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, and when the subject of a clause or sentence isn’t known, or isn’t as important as the object, passive voice can be just the thing. Tom Wicker’s classic New York Times opening sentence of November 23, 1963, would have been ruined if he’d tried to shoehorn it into the active voice. Wicker wrote: “President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot and killed by an assassin today.”
Rule #3: Creativity Trumps Conformity
English heading into the sixteenth century was a makeshift, cobbled-together thing. Since no fewer than eight conquering peoples had added to the vocabulary and shaped its syntax, it was a mess. Even worse, playwrights like Chaucer let newfangled words from the street amble onto the literary stage – newfangled and amble being two of them.
By the time Elizabethan dramatists sought expression for ever-more sophisticated sentiments, crowds cheered their linguistic daring. The Bard himself is responsible for so many of the words we use everyday, such as:
- swagger and
- clodpoll (= blockhead, thanks Marian Beaman for this!)
Shakespeare also minted new metaphors, many now cliches, but fresh in his time:
- it’s Greek to me,
- played fast and loose,
- slept not one wink,
- seen better days,
- knit your brows,
- have your teeth set on edge,
But you didn’t have to be a Shakespeare to play word god. Everyday speakers in the Renaissance formed new words, often by adding prefixes and suffixes. Most of the words formed this way were nouns and adjectives:
- Add –ness to bawdy and you get bawdiness,
- Do the same to brisk and you get briskness,
- Hitch –er to the end of a verb and you get everything from a feeler to a murmurmer.
New verbs could be had for the cheap price of a suffix, like:
- –ize (agonize, apologize, civilize),
- –en (blacken and whiten, loosen and tighten, madden and sadden)
I find this ability of the English language to create new words, to verb nouns, if you like, to be one of its most fascinating aspects, and one that should be treasured, not fought.
Then, in the midst of this linguistic riot, King James commissioned the Bible’s translation into English in 1604. England had just broken away from the Roman Catholic Church, so this anarchic tongue became a bastion of national identity.
Certain clerks and clerics in the eighteenth century longed for a less rustic language and took it upon themselves to craft a “Queen’s English.” They invented rules for this unruly tongue. The problem was, they stole the rules from Latin.
Nevertheless, these rules have been sanctified in books and repeated by people who ignored the history of English. They have been passed down by generations of schoolmarms (and schoolmasters).
Rule #4: As long as it has a beginning, a middle and an end, it’s a story
We humans are simple creatures. We love our stories, our myths and our tales. Since ancient time, as long as our ramblings have a beginning, a middle and an end, they’re accepted as stories. Anything else could be the incoherent babble of a drunkard just before he passes out.
So, stop worrying if your story is ready to be shared with the world, because the commas in it may be misplaced and you use more passive voice that you “should.” Stop fretting that you start your lines with a gerund, or your book with a dream. That your sentences are fragmented. Or that you start with conjunctions or end with prepositions. These aren’t even real rules. And stop trying to impress editors and agents.
Instead, focus on writing, then writing some more. And on sharing with the only people that really matter: the readers.
The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.
Pearseus: Rise of the Prince will be on sale throughout November. Read the second book in my best-selling epic fantasy series for only 99c (no, you don’t need to have read the first book to make sense of it).
this is good – I wish you would post it on Scribophile
Thank you! What is Scribophile? I’m afraid I’m unaware of it 🙁
Scribophile,com is a site where authors post their writing for others to critique. http://www.scribophile.com/authors/allison-kohn/
Thanks for the info and link!
Reblogged this on John R. Paterson and commented:
Nicolas Rossi’s post provides an enlightening and liberating look at some of the ‘rules’ of writing.
Thanks Nicolas. A very enlightening – and liberating post!
It’s one of my oldest, and still one of my favorite. Thanks for reading 🙂
“English heading into the sixteenth century was a makeshift, cobbled-together thing.”
HA! It still is! Well, American English is, anyway… 😀
That’s what I love about it 🙂
I love how all of your rules could basically be summed up by one rule 1) Break the RULES! – I’m good at that one!!
Unfortunately I’ve forgotten everything about how to actually write like English was my first language, but luckily I can just tell people that Dothraki is my first language! And on that note I will end by telling you that for at least one more day “Anha vazhak yeraan thirat.” You lucky devil you.
At first I thought you were having a seizure. I was about to lament your untimely passing, when I noticed the Dothraki mention. A quick google search sorted that out. And thanks!
BTW, my favorite Dothraki phrase has to be “Hash jin zhori ray efesash hrazefoon fini nem dranesh she ram ma fini nem azhish vigoverat?”
(to save you the trouble of looking it up, it translates into “Are these hearts from pasture-raised, sustainably-farmed horses?” Surely, a question every self-respecting Dothraki has to ask…)
Don’t know how I missed this one, Nicholas. It’s excellent! Thank you to Quirky Writing Corner for reblogging, resurrecting one of Nicholas’ gems. I might not have seen it otherwise.
Thanks, Sue! It’s one of my favorite, as well 🙂
Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
Love this article!
Amen! You are going from strength to strength , my friend (Is that correct use of comma?)
Your pdf is safe with me, and I’m reserving it for a start to finish marathon, since I think it deserves undivided attention. So summer vacation is when I’ll dive into it.
Lol – thanks, and yes, that was a fine use of a comma 😀
Heh, heh. Grammar can be such a killer.
Great article, Nicholas. I enjoyed reading it and learned from it. 🙂
Thanks, Vashti! I was reading a short feature about you on Olga’s blog the other day, and would love to feature you on my blog, as well. If you’re interested, just contact me through https://nicholasrossis.me/contact/ 🙂
I’m late to the party but … God, I love this! I decided early on that I wasn’t going to pay attention to any of the rules. I would write the stories in my head the way I felt they needed to be written. And that’s exactly what I do – write stories. I’ll let those who need the rules worry and stress over sentence construction and the rules that don’t seem to be rules after all. 🙂
Thank you! So glad to find a sister soul 🙂
Loved and reposted this on Experiments With WordPress!
Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂
Reblogged this on Experiments with WordPress and commented:
I just had to reblog this humorous and informative post by author Nicholas C. Rossis! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Great, well researched post, Nicholas! Rules are meant to be broken and they are, all the time, as you said. They highlight the writing style of the writer.
Thanks, Kate! I feel quite strongly about this, which is why I prefer the term “guidelines” to “rules”.
I very much enjoyed reading your 4 Golden Rules! You’ve made this grammar “rule-breaker” very happy! 🙂
Lol – as I often joke, the only thing better than following the rules is breaking them 😀
This is wonderful! I like to break the rules whenever it seems to fit the story, which is pretty often for me 🙂 Thank you also for the follow, I’m looking forward to reading more of your site too x
Thank you, likewise! 🙂
I love writing and this is one of the most informative pieces of information I have found looking forward to printing this out asap and spending some time over it all
Thanks for sharing. I also downloaded your free chapter of Pearseus: Schism so will be kept busy.Kind regards Kathy.
Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy Schism as well 🙂
I apparently don’t know how to do anything BUT break the rules when it comes to my writing. I have always dreamed of being a writer and unfortunately my words get in the way 🙂
I guess I will stick to the artwork!
Lol – that’s okay. Writing is a process. First we break the rules without realising it, then we follow them blindly, then we learn how to break them again. Almost makes you wonder why bother with learning them in the first place. 😀
Fascinating piece! Well, I’ve broken a few of the rules, and learned that I could break a couple more! Thanks for these insights.
Lol – glad to help a fellow writing rebel! 😀
Reblogged this on Mazdboss's Blog and commented:
Awesome read! <3
Excellent read! Thank you, so much for the follow. It’s nice to know you! Have a wonderful, Tuesday! 😀
Thanks and welcome! Likewise! 🙂
Really like this, thanks for sharing!! I sometimes find myself writing with an imaginary critic over my shoulder, questioning and demanding and I hate it. I write much better when I manage to just shut it out and lose myself in what I really want to express. I love that you made me think more about this. Glad I found your blog, it’s so interesting! Look forward to spending more time reading it soon!!
Ah, the over-the-shoulder critic… I have one of my own, if you’re ever interested in having a house guest for a few days! 😀
Thank you for the kind words and welcome 🙂
It takes a Greek to upstage Latin, he’s earned the right I’d say. If I could place my first love of language it would be when my theology teacher (in South Africa) wrote classical Greek on the blackboard and gave a whole lesson on the distinctions between agape, charis, eros and philia(quite challenging for a spinster with, I suspect, little knowledge of one of them). Brilliant post. I now know what rules I have been breaking!
Lol – thank you so much for the kind words and welcome! 🙂
Charis, huh? You don’t see grace listed there that often. Usually people stick to the other three. I’ll have to check my Plato, it seems 🙂
Great post. I love the permission to break the rules; it makes me feel like celebrating! Most of us have read successful authors who do and when it works for a character or story, it’s the right choice. We need to look at ourselves as artists, painting pictures, sculpting characters, and singing with words. Pressing against and sometimes breaking down the borders of what is “approved” pushes our art-form forward.
On the other hand, it seems to me, that understanding the rules is a prerequisite to breaking them. We break them with intent, because its right for the story, not because we’re clueless. Believe me, I spent a long time in “clueless.” Now, I have a better understanding of say…that pesky comma and other grammatical/punctuational (note my inventive spelling) do’s and don’ts. I can satisfy an editor with my appropriate use of semi-colons. That said, I feel increasingly free to break the rules and am able to justify my indulgences when challenged.
With your permission, I’d love to share this post on my blog….let me know.
Hi Wallace, and welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the post, it means a lot coming from an accomplished author like you (for anyone unfamiliar with Wallace’s work, her fantasy book Sunwielder is one of the best books I’ve read this year!)
No need to ask for permission, I do a little happy dance every time someone reblogs my posts. 🙂
By the way, if you ever feel like an author feature/interview or guest post, just let me know. 🙂
This is great stuff Nicholas! Thank you for sharing. And (!) it has come to me at just the right time. As someone from an entirely different culture (Indian) and who writes the English language in a way that is flavoured by my culture, I am at the moment under pressure to conform. I’ve just joined a creative diploma course (after having finished my novel) and been given a long list of what agents and editors dislike – I balk at the idea that my writing should meet their idea of what writing English should be like. But I feel as if I am caught between the devil and the blue sea. My novel might never see the light of the day if I do not acquiesce to the likes and dislikes of the gate keepers! So what does one then do? 🙁
Ah, and I’m a Greek who writes in English. Do you think that’s why we both rebel against rules we perceive to be silly?
The answer to your question is really very simple: self-publish. Get rid of any gatekeepers and submit to the judgment of your readers. At least that’s what I’ve done…
Reblogged this on So, I Read This Book Today and commented:
This flowed down to me from Deborah Jay and Marcia Meara. It is a great article for all authors to pay attention to!
Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:
Definitely food for thought, here. I saw this on Deborah Jay’s blog, but had to go to the original to reblog. Thank you for posting this, Deborah. .
I break the rules on a daily basis. I attempt to write as people speak, rather than in “perfect” English. In my latest series, I am writing from the mind of a four-year-old but in a very different time and space. I read once that there are no new stories, just new ways of telling them. Thus, though there are those out there who claim to be tired of “the same old clichés”, I still use the trusted plots and plot devises so many others before me have used.
I know. I am being wordy. Point is, I started breaking the rules before I graduated high school. I never thought it worth my time to take workshops or classes on how to write. The books I read all said that I was doing it wrong, so I stopped reading the “How To Write” books. I think I am better for it all. since I have since published stories once turned down by publishers when they were with an agent, and gone on to publish so much more.
I am glad that you have taken the time to post these rules. They are much needed in a time when there are so many editors who would change the core of a story just because they can’t get past reality as it appears in writing.
People forget that writing is a CREATIVE profession. Which, in my book, kinda implies that you HAVE to break the rules, or you’ll be stuck repeating the same ol’, same ol’. The only “rule” here is, “can people understand what you’re saying?” As long as the answer to that is an emphatic yes, you’re doing fine.
Thanks for the comment and welcome! 🙂
Reblogged this on deborahjay and commented:
Great advice for all writers…
Great post! 🙂 —Suzanne
Thank you! It’s one of the posts I’m most proud of. 🙂
Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
“The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.” Raymond Chandler –
I love this post! It encourages me to do what I already naturally do as a serious writer — which is to make up my own rules as I go along, to go wild. Thank you Nicholas Rossis — love your blog!
Great post!!!Guiding rules for Writing are pretty aptly captured…
Thanks and welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed the post 🙂
I like the way historical references are embedded into the rules – witty without sounding cheeky. Oh, and I see clod-poll made it on the list!
As promised! 🙂
Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂
Great post, Nicholas! Jotting down hoodwink on my Words List, as I’m certain to have a use for this in the near future. xoxo 🙂
As ever, excellent post, Nicholas – in spite of the fact that I do get distracted and frustrated when reading books with a lot of punctuation errors. Having said that, I am reading a novel at the moment which has enough to normally cause me to grind my teeth, yet the writing as a whole is a delight and those “errors” have not spoilt my enjoyment. It has caused me to conclude that those others I’ve been irritated about were probably just poorly written.
Thanks, that’s a nice thing to say! 🙂
You’re right, good writing does allow authors to get away with a few typos. Of course, it could also be argued that sloppy writing and poor proof-reading go hand-in-hand most of the time. Having said that, I’m rather forgiving when it comes to typos. After all, let him without sin… 🙂
Great post, Nick. Rules for writing are made to steady the writer, not cement his feet. Look at the first paragraph of Moby Dick and be amazed as the grammar rules fly out the window.
When writing dialog I forget rules because that’s the way the character speaks.
I too will re-read this post and learn. Thank you.
It sounds like you already know everything I’m trying to tell people. 🙂
Thanks and welcome! 🙂
I only wish I knew… I’m learning from you.
That’s kind of you, thanks. 🙂
In my mind, we’re all travelling down the same path. As I walk, I tell others what I see. Hopefully, both those ahead and those a few steps behind will find some of my notes interesting. The former because they may not have noticed something as they zipped by, the latter because they’ll have a warning of what lies ahead.
One of the most important things that I’ve learnt is how important it is to find your own voice, instead of everyone following the same, tired, old formulas. If I have helped a single person do that, then my work here is done! 🙂
Hi Nicholas! Excellent post! It is very informative and a breath of fresh air. There are so many rules in writing that I sometimes feel stifled by them. I’m going to share this post and pin it for future reference. By the way, thanks for the follow. I’m honored. 😀
Thank you so much and welcome! The honor is all mine. 🙂
In my cynical moments I’ve wondered if some of these rules for writers are touted by agents and editors to keep writers agonizing over minutiae so as to stem the flood of submissions. Now that everyone is self-publishing, I do think we writers owe it to readers to make our writing clear and readable. We can join (or start) critique groups to test-drive our prose. Reading aloud is also helpful. And I think we should be aware of the rules of grammar, even when we judiciously choose to break or bend some of them. Some of the sillier “rules,” such as “Never begin a story with weather,” or “No prologues,” may safely be ignored.
See? That’s what I’ve been saying! 🙂
A friend compared the “rules” (I’d rather think of them as guidelines, in the inimitable words of Captain Sparrow) to training wheels. They’re great in your first steps, but at some point you can safely get rid of them.
Thank you so much and welcome! 🙂
Nicholas you literally made my day…I absolutely was amused to read each and every syllable with appropriate anecdotes and quotes to justify….it hell will motivate a few ….I would like it if you read any of my fiction or poem when you get time.
Thank you so much and welcome! Heading off now to your blog! 🙂
Reblogged this on insaneowl and commented:
A must read for all authors. 🙂
I’ve been reading Hugo/Nebula award winners lately, and I’ve found that these “Greats of Science Fiction and Fantasy” broke the writing rules on a regular basis.
The story should be more important than the rules.
Hear, hear! That’s why I keep telling people, “it’s more of a guideline, really” (to quote the inimitable Captain Sparrow). 🙂
Thanks and welcome!
Thanks! I’m just getting (re)started in this blogging adventure and finding my way around WordPress.
Love the “guideline” quote. 😀 “The Rules” are kind of like training wheels. Good to keep around while you’re learning, but once you know the way, you can forge ahead without them and still have confidence.
I love the training wheels concept! What a great way of putting it! 🙂
Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
Nicholas offers a commonsense approach to the rules of writing. 🙂
Well said Nicholas. 🙂
Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog….. An Author Promotions Enterprise!.
I’m currently reading “What I talk about when I talk about running” a memoir by Haruki Murakami, in which he talks about writing as well as running. How he runs almost becomes a metaphor for how he writes. Check it out sometime.
Thanks for the tip! Wishlisted. For anyone wishing to take a look, I found it on https://www.amazon.com/What-Talk-About-When-Running-ebook/dp/B0015DWJ8W
Excellent points, well made.
Thank you! I was afraid that this post turned out longer than I had originally expected, but you’ve all been too kind about it. 🙂
Fascinating post! Really worth reading and thinking about. 🙂
Thanks and welcome! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂
Feel better now after reading your post Nicholas 😀
That’s so sweet, thanks! 😀
Excellent stuff. All you say makes perfect sense. For whatever rule you choose to follow, you just need to be consistent, as you say. That’s the only thing that matters, because whether you follow it or not, there is a prestigious site out there that backs you up. The information is always contradicting out there so I say we go with our instinct at all times and just stick with it. At the end of the day, only our own insecurity can give our writing a bad name.
Thank you for putting into words my exact thoughts! 🙂
Reblogged this on jemsbooks and commented:
Informative and helpful information on grammar and it’s use for writers everywhere from my good friend, Nicholas Rossis.
My iPad put in it’s after I put in its. It does that all the time! Ugh!
That’s hardly the worst crime autocorrect has committed! Just google “autocorrect fails” and click on Images:
My laptop email does that, too! Thinking I might just turn off the spellchecker. If it doesn’t even know when to use an apostrophe and when not to, it’s a handicap rather than a help-meet.
Love this post, Nicholas. I will reblog for my readers.
I loved reading your article. This past year, I’ve been busy editing my book over and over according to reviews by fellow authors. I’ve taken out most of my “ly” adverbs and converted many words to the accepted “said.” Now when I read my book, it seems stiffer and more lifeless. I should just have left it in its original edited state by my self-publisher. When reviewers began to complain about my number of characters and getting them confused, I threw up my hands and thought–enough is enough. If they’re not smart enough to follow my story, so be it. I don’t need them. This is my style. Your article reinforces my decision. Thank you, Susanne
Thank you! You just made my day. I went through pretty much the same with my books, before realising my folly. I wrote the post in the hope of helping other find their voice. 🙂
I even have a book of Chicago Style and I STILL tear up every one of these rules!! 🙄
Lol – and yet, your blog is a great example of good writing, with a strong voice! 🙂
Fantabulous post! Is that a word? Lol. Now I can breathe and stop worrying about when I feel like beginning my sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But’. Thanks for permission. 🙂
Fantabulous is definitely a word. A fantabulous one, at that. And you’re welcome. Now go forth and have a fantabulous day! 😀
Reblogged this on Kentucky Mountain Girl News and commented:
KMGN: I am putting this one in my favorites. What do you think?
Thank you so much! 🙂
This is both EXCELLENT and HELPFUL !!
Thanks! Or, as DG Kaye put it, a fantabulous post… 😀
Reblogged this on Writing for the Whole Darn Universe and commented:
Rules to write by. 🙂
Love the post! I follow some of these rules diligently. 🙂
Thanks, I’m glad you liked it! 🙂
I do agree with you on most points, even though I’m a stickler (where did that word come from?) for writing solid English grammar (I couldn’t be otherwise, having been brought up by a mother who was a high school English teacher). I just want to make one remark on writing informally. It depends on what you’re writing. If it’s a hard-boiled crime novel, you’ll want to write informal, racy prose – fragmented is fine. If you’re writing a heroic epic in a classic mold, then a formal high style is called for. In my novel The Termite Queen, the human dialogue is quite informal, with variations based on the nature of the characters. But the termites speak with a hint of Shakespearean prose, because their part of the book is structured like a script for a Shakespearean drama. In The Labors of Ki’shto’ba Huge-Head the style is quite elevated, because it is an epic, and you don’t expect the characters to say, “Hey, get your choppers out of my face, dude!” When my termites relived the Beowulf saga, I fell into an Old English style – alliteration and a certain rhythm – because I had just reread Beowulf in Seamus Heaney’s wonderful translation, and I thought that seemed quite appropriate.
An excellent point. Everything depends on the situation, and you wouldn’t want the language used to sound strange coming out of your characters’ lips.
However, it was not my intention to suggest that everyone writes informally. My intention was to encourage people to worry less about the language and the “rules” and more about finding their voice. As you point out, one’s voice may be rather formal, too! 🙂
Just re-read this – it really is a terrific post! By the way, Chaucer was a poet and teller of tales, but not a playwright. And I’ve been curious – was Greek your first language? You write English with all the fluency of a native speaker – in fact, better than most native speakers!
Thanks! I’ll have to change Chaucer’s description then.
Yes, Greek is my native language. My parents hired a string of au pairs from Ireland, Australia and England when I was but a toddler. They used English in their conversations with me (or whatever passes for a conversation with a three-year-old), which is probably why I don’t have the usual Greek accent.
Also, we studied and worked for 6 years in Edinburgh with Electra, so that was great for brushing up my English. TV shows and lots of reading took care of the rest. 🙂
Excellent post. Thanks for the great info.
Welcome and thank you so much for your kind words! 🙂
Reblogged this on Kateryna Kei's blog.
We all can use reminders every so often. Excellent post. 🙂
Thank you, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂
Yes, I did. Thank you. 😉
This was a really good overview of the tension we face. I have a personal vendetta on the word “that.” It is a word which seems to allow for lazy sentences. If “which” were outlawed I don’t know where I would turn. Nice post.
Thanks, John! Interesting vendetta, I’d never heard of that one! 🙂
Your post reminds me of my most favoritest (see what I did there?) commercial ever there was.
Lol – brilliant! In your case, I believe I know which is the one rule… NO DOUBLE SPACES!!! 😀
Your rules sound like pages from my lesson plans in college composition. One of my favorite words attributed to Shakespeare is clodpoll = blockhead! Very onomatopoetic, don’t you think?
I love it! Adding it to the post… 🙂
Thanks for the comment and welcome!
After years of hiding my stories, poems and words away , I am trying to share.
Fear of being told I have broken the rules or I am lacking in a decent level of grammar, has scared me into silence.
Recently I put forward a short story. The competition I entered was a substantial one.
I had been so hooked up on getting the grammar correct that I sterilised it. I lost my voice. Now, I am writing a book and learning to blog. I am twittering some thoughts and silliness. All the above are new formats for me ( with the exception of sillieness). I have had a hard time with learning the tech stuff, wordpress, don’t get me started on how much I have lost into the ether of that place.
Anyway I digress. I may never be a published author, I may never be the worlds greatest witt. But your post and friendly advice from twitter followers has helped with my self belief. So for people like me, people who live for words. Thankyou. As I write to fill another gap in my soul, to make me full.
Welcome and thank you – your sweet comment made my day. 🙂
Silliness is great, isn’t it? It reminds us that life is, in effect, a bit of a joke (he said, humming “Always look on the Bright Side of Life”).
Regarding writing, my most basic advice is this: Don’t worry what others think of it. As long as it comes from your soul, it can’t help but be great. As for the “rules”, they’re the reason why I use Lorelei Logsdon, an editor with a particularly light editing touch. She makes sure my grammar is up to par without sterilizing my voice, as you so eloquently put it.
I’d have said if it was crap… honoured.
Lol – yep, that would have worked too. 😀
I bookmarked this page as too often I simply go with the flow and the editing afterwards is a minefield. Drive safely and have a good trip.
Just came back last night. I’ll post a little something about it.
A bookmark is the ultimate compliment, thanks! 🙂
Excellent, excellent! I reblogged. One thing I adore about writing romance is that there are absolutely no language rules. Anything works as long as you pin the emotion down and manage to convey it to the reader. I also agree on your view of the English language. Although compared to Greek it’s “imperfect”, it’s so flexible, malleable and workable you gotta love it!!! Keep your eyes on the road!
Thanks, hon! I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and many thanks for the reblog! 🙂
Reblogged this on MM Jaye writes… and commented:
An excellent, empowering article on writing by Nicholas C. Rossis, bestselling author of the epic fantasy series “Pearseus”. A must read!
Extremely informative. There’s definitely a lot of really crystallised wisdom here. Thanks graciously. Very much liked your take on grammar.
Coming from a professional wordsmith like you, this is high praise indeed. Thank you and welcome! 🙂
That’s very generous, but your advice is easily to professional standard. I read a lot of advice here, and I know insight when I see it.
Reblogged this on S.K. Nicholls and commented:
Best writing rules I’ve ever seen on the web.
Thank you so very much for this post. It could not have come at a better time for me. You said so many of the things I have been thinking. I’m going to print this out, hang it on my wall just beside my computer, and reference it periodically during my editing process. 🙂
That’s such a sweet thing to say, thank you! I’m so glad you found it inspirational! 🙂
Luckily i wasn’t taught any rules in workshops and classrooms. Also definitely stealing “shoehorn” as a verb! Also cute dog!
Thanks and welcome! Much like you, my “professional” training has been somewhat limited. We each follow our own path into authoring, which is one of the greatest things about it (in my mind, anyway), as it’s both liberating and ultimately democratic. And yes, shoehorn is a great example of verbing a word, isn’t it? 😀
Meli is such a cutie. We got some great pics of her at Pelion. I’ll post some.