Between the Lines

You are remembered for the rules you break.
—Douglas MacArthur

Kathy Steffen

It’s time for the best part of grammar and writing … breaking the rules. Breaking rules of writing can add interest and keep your reader involved. (If you are an English teacher or editor and reading this month’s column makes you dizzy and/or nauseous, please feel free to skip to the next page:)
This month’s writing advice comes with two warnings. First, understand the rule you are breaking and understand why you are breaking it. Don’t do so just because it’s fun. You can do anything in writing as long as you have a solid reason (an example of a not-solid reason is “because I want to and I’m the writer”). And the second warning: break rules sparingly. It’s like using hot sauce — a little adds zip; too much causes coughing, watering eyes and heartburn. You do not want to do any of those things to your reader.
Fragmented sentences. Can make a reader feel jarred. Might be the reaction you want. But beware. Too much. Will sound. Like Captain Kirk. On a. Bad day. And spellcheck hates this.
And at the opposite end of the spectrum, run-on sentences, which will feel like the author (or character) is stressed to the point where they can’t stop the internal tumbling of words or a cyclone of thought coursing through at breakneck speed, which they cannot stop. Effective in situations where you want to show and not tell a reader what is going on internally. The reader will “get” what is happening without the emotion being named.
If you end a sentence in a preposition, some readers will think you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s something to guard against. Seriously what are you searching for? Perfection?
If you end a sentence in a preposition, your reader will think you do not know about that which you are speaking. It is something against which you must guard. Seriously, for what are you searching? Perfection?
But what about beginning a sentence with a conjunction? (heh-heh) This is another technique that engages the reader and pulls them in with an informal, conversational tone. (Common conjunctions: and, but, if, or, so, etc.) So, methinks it’s okay. But only if you don’t do too much of this good thing.
“Write what you know” has been popular writing advice for years. Tell that to Stephen King. I bet he’s never seen a demon clown in a sewer. Another safe bet: George R. R. Martin has never seen a White Walker or Dragon. Both authors have probably had a close experience. I had a clown terrify me as a child, so the thought of “It” keeps me awake at nights. Better advice might be, “Write what you imagine then research the specifics until it feels so real, you know it as if you have experienced it, then fill in the details.”
So go ahead. Break some rules. After all, that’s what creativity is for.

Kathy Steffen is an award-winning novelist and author of the “Spirit of the River Series:” “First, There is a River,” “Jasper Mountain,” and “Theater of Illusion.” She writes from her home in Spring Green she shares with her husband and cats. Find out more at www.kathysteffen.com.