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Liam Sharp
December 14th, 2005, 11:57 AM
And let's kick this off with... ellipses! (No! Spare us!! And not the tripple exclaimation mark!!! Gah!!!! That's four!!!!)
Now - another hated word to start a sentence, followed by a dash, when brackets would have been sufficient - I can't help feeling that there's a little TOO much emphasis put on new writers to conform to a growing set of rules as regards writing. And (did you see what I did there? Started with an "And") sometimes I think it can be a little bit stunting, and can cramp creativity. When I learnt English at school Chaucer was held in great esteme for his storytelling and characterisations, but much of what he did would be termed info dump, or show don't tell. Certainly what Tolkien wrote would be decimated, and by todays standards Lewis Carol's work would have been deemed unpublishable.
People like M. John Harrison are certainly breaking down preconceptions about what can and cannot be done in terms of narrative and story structure. So is convention becoming too prevalent? Are we judging by sets of rules and not our hearts? are we losing out on poetry because we aren't accustomed to reading work as obscure as Gormanghast?
Or SHOULD we stick to the rule book?

(Appologies for spelling, gramar, etc.)

Just curious!

Cheers,

Liam.

Erfael
December 14th, 2005, 12:38 PM
My freshman year in college I was in an Honors English 1200 class. The first day of class the prof walked in and asked us for a rule we didn't like. He started us off with "Never start a sentence with 'and.'" He then gave examples of some great sentences that started with that word and talked about how they may not have been as effective if they had followed the rule. Every class we spent a few minutes picking on some rule or other of "good writing." The thing he wanted to stress in that class was that "good writing" didn't mean "follows the rules to the T." He was one of the most interesting professors I dealt with at Uni and I still remember most of the stuff we talked about in that class.

Over the course of our explorations that semester we decided that the rules are there for a reason. They should serve as sort of a baseline for writing. But if something can be made more effective by bending or breaking them, then it's better to do that (though not just break them for the sake of breaking them.) I still ascribe to that philosphy as much as possible when it comes to writing and communication.

(This is the same professor that, when a girl came in with balloons and presents and was very excited about her birthday, looked contemplative for a few seconds and then said, "You know, every year we celebrate our birthday, but nobody ever thinks that every year we also have a deathday that passes us by unnoticed." I'm not sure she ever forgave him for that.)

FitzChivalry
December 14th, 2005, 01:20 PM
I think you need a certain level of talent and ability to break the rules in a way that will be worth it, in other words, in a way that will produce a good book, there are two problems with that.
The first problem is that not everyone is good enough to break the rules, and when you are not good enough and you don't follow the rules it gets even worse. The second problem is that many authors think they are good enough while they are not.

Erfael
December 14th, 2005, 01:25 PM
The first problem is that not everyone is good enough to break the rules, and when you are not good enough and you don't follow the rules it gets even worse. The second problem is that many authors think they are good enough while they are not.

Oh, I don't disagree with that at all.

But many of the ones that aren't good enough to break them aren't even good enough to get them right in the first place, so......

I'm not attacking anyone in particular, and I understand that hunting out grammatical and spelling problems in something that is sometimes well over 100,000 words can be an extremely difficult thing. So I am understanding, but it is nice to see when people write well enough and understand things well enough to break the rules to good effect.

Guy Kay comes to mind as just one of many examples of an extremely meticulous writer who means every word that he puts on the page. If something is grammatically outside of the norm, I'm usually pretty certain that he meant it to be that way to achieve a desired end.

Randy M.
December 14th, 2005, 01:37 PM
I think you need a certain level of talent and ability to break the rules in a way that will be worth it, in other words, in a way that will produce a good book, there are two problems with that.
The first problem is that not everyone is good enough to break the rules, and when you are not good enough and you don't follow the rules it gets even worse. The second problem is that many authors think they are good enough while they are not.
Well, yes, but the problem lies on both sides: We insist on our writers being knowledgable; we should insist equally on readers being knowledgable. Even masterful writers run into readers who aren't perceptive enough either to notice that a 'rule' is being broken or, if they notice a 'rule' being broken, to consider that it might have been done with purpose, to consider what the broken rule means to the story's trajectory before crying that a rule has been broken.

In either case, further reading and experience in life may solve the problem.

Randy M.

Dawnstorm
December 14th, 2005, 02:22 PM
Tools not rules.

Often, under the guise of "writing rules", people are propagating the style they like.

One of my pet niggles is with Strunk's "The Elements of Style" (I haven't read the newer Strunk/White version, and, I think, there's an even newer version out there somewhere with a third author on the bandwaggon). It's not that the book isn't useful. What I dislike about it, mostly, is the title.

Because the one thing the book doesn't do is describe the elements of style. It's attrocious on the passive voice, the conjuctive... What Strunk's really doing is push a particular style: press forward with energy and clarity.

The elements of style should be able to combine into more diversity.

I don't mean to discourage people from reading "rule books". There are always one or two things in there that you can pick up.

The easiest way to learn is from mistakes. But you need to have developed a "voice" of your own, to see which way you want to rectify the "mistake". Prematurely correcting them in ways "rulebooks" suggest might be detrimental to the development of your style. This is especially true if the style the "rule book" propagates goes against your intuition.

If you want to be a writer, write. Once you're mildly confident you can tackle rule-books. For inspiration, not for guidance. Much (but by no means all) bad writing comes from an attempt to conform to rules against your own intuition.

That said, you still have to know what you're doing. To a certain extent.

Holbrook
December 14th, 2005, 02:28 PM
Often the rules take over. I know they did for me, for a long time. The fear of not doing something correct, or how it should be, stopped me writing for a while.

I had to take my courage in my hands and force myself to write, knowing I was making mistakes and accepting I am not the worlds best when it comes to grammar.

The mistakes, I have learned, are weeded out in the editing process ;) That evil, self-flagellating process all writers subject themselves too...

Iskaral Pust
December 14th, 2005, 03:00 PM
In the arts I don't believe "rules" have any real place. Some writers are happier with a formal style, whereas others will only be restricted by these rules. Exploring what can be done with language is key to writing creatively and conveying exactly what you want to. However, little annoys me more than poor grammar in formal writng (though that is slightly hypocritical as I'm sure my spelling and grammar is not all it could be.)

FitzChivalry
December 14th, 2005, 03:48 PM
Well, yes, but the problem lies on both sides: We insist on our writers being knowledgable; we should insist equally on readers being knowledgable.

Insisting on readers being knowledgable? readers are readers, you can't insist on anything with them, they are composed of different groups, with different understandings, different interests and different preferences, you have to choose one or few groups and write for them, and accept that not everyone will get it.
And then you have to hope a large enough number of people got it and also enjoyed it, if you want to not having to keep a day job.



In the arts I don't believe "rules" have any real place.


The bottom line is that a large part of it is subjective and is depended on definitions and expectations. If you take the best poem in the world, and decide to call it a short story, it would make one crappy story, just because you changed the definition of what it is. The same to lesser extent with types of prose and literature.
So, it's true that rules have no real place in art, but they sure have place in trying to get the largest number of people you can to get your point and to enjoy the process of getting it.

Radthorne
December 14th, 2005, 04:12 PM
The essence of writing is that you are communicating. You are writing words that you want to convey something (an image, an idea, a feeling) to somebody else. The rules of grammer and the like are there to facilitate that, not to be an end unto themselves. That simple concept seems lost sometimes under the guise of trying to make writers "better." Rather than so much focus on the structural rules of writing, it would seem to me that concentrating on developing rich characters, stunning plots, and intriguing settings is a better way of making writers "better." :)


Often, under the guise of "writing rules", people are propagating the style they like.
I agree completely. In many cases, I don't think they consider it that way; they believe that what they are advising people is the "right way" to write. But really, in the end it all comes down to how well a job you've done in crafting a tale that people want to read, and that they enjoy reading (and, perhaps, that a publisher is willing to buy). If your "style" does not impede that, then it doesn't really matter what that style is. No one is giving out brownie points simply for good sentence structure.