By JBeckingham on Jun 11, 2013 at 9:00 AM
  1. JBeckingham

    JBeckingham Member

    Dec 1, 2009
    Likes Received:
    Melbourne, Australia

    One Rule to Rule Them All

    Discussion in 'Articles' started by JBeckingham, Jun 11, 2013.

    Writing has a lot of rules – from the more inflexible rules of comprehension to the far more slippery and opinion driven “rules” of style. While a lot of us had comprehension drilled into us in high school by a stern faced woman with thick glasses and a severe bun of iron grey hair (or maybe that was just me), the rules of style are a lot more difficult to get a handle on.

    A lot of writers start out not quite knowing where to go, or trying to find a way to improve their writing, so they read books and articles on “how to write”. This can be a great way to learn and polish your skills, and helps you to try out different techniques to see what works. By doing this, writers will inevitably find their own style. The problem comes when people (especially young, impressionable writers) latch onto a particular rule and think it must be followed at all costs, no matter what impact that has on their writing.

    This is why I believe the greatest rule a writer can follow is: you can break any rule.

    Simple, right?

    But with great power comes great responsibility, and this is a very powerful rule. It can do a lot of good in the right hands, but can cause problems if not used properly. So, two things to be aware of when applying this Great and Powerful Rule:

    • Know why you are breaking a given rule.
      It’s not ok to say “dunno, I just did.”, because that could mean anything. You could be breaking the rule in the wrong place or in the wrong context. Ideally, you should know exactly what rule you are breaking and what your justification is for doing so.
    • Don’t overuse it.
      Most rules are there for a reason (even style rules that not everyone agrees with). Breaking a rule should be used to add impact to your story, but that only works if it’s used sparingly. If a rule is broken continuously, it not only loses any impact it might have had, but a reader may well write the whole piece off as badly written – even if it actually isn’t.
    Let me give you some examples of what I mean.

    I don’t like short sentences – I think it makes a story feel choppy, jarring a reader out of the story’s groove and making it that much harder for them to lose themselves in a story. But sometimes this can be a good thing. Sometimes you deliberately want to jolt the reader, if there is something particularly exciting / horrible / dramatic that you want to convey. In this case, having a short, jarring sentence adds impact to your words and draws attention to that moment. In this case, use the Great and Powerful rule and throw the “short sentence rule” out the window.

    This can be used just about anywhere in your writing. Everyone knows you have to use punctuation to make your writing readable, but what if you have a character who is gibbering with fright? Sometimes it might be effective to drop all your commas (or even full stops?) and let the sentence run. When the reader sees it out of context with the rest of the writing, they will (hopefully) understand it means the speaker is gabbling.

    Always remember that writing is an art form – everyone will look at a rule (especially a style rule) and have a different take on it. That’s why using a forum like this to get many different opinions on a story can be so useful (if frustrating at times). It helps you know what rules to break and when. Because, let’s be honest, rules were made to be broken.
    Scot and Augen Blick like this.


Discussion in 'Articles' started by JBeckingham, Jun 11, 2013.

    1. Robert J Horner
      Robert J Horner
      Only in writing, lest we have anarchy. I feel the same way. Writing is by the author but it is for the reader. Rules in writing are major guidelines and when broken they cause a dramatic effect.
    2. curiousPaul
      Excellent post. I just want to be me and be casual in my writing without bothering the rules. It that possible? cuuriousPaul
    3. writer one
      writer one
    4. writer one
      writer one
      Did I say that? That was my name in another forum! writer one
    5. writer one
      writer one
      Thank you all, you've made my day. Paul/Writer One
    6. jannert
      Yes, good points. I fully agree with most of them. However, I don't think there is any 'rule' forbidding short sentences. I think the general rule is to vary your sentence length as much as you can. Using short sentences to convey urgency works a treat, but using short sentences elsewhere is fine as well, as long as they are intersposed with long sentences and medium-length sentences. Sentences that are all the same length—whatever that length may be—create a rhythm. This can be distracting if the rhythm isn't intentional.
      Alan Aspie likes this.
    7. Tenderiser
      That's one of the reasons I always read my writing out loud as part of the final edit. It's amazing how things read perfectly on paper but are so obviously wrong when you hear them.
      Alan Aspie, jannert and minstrel like this.
    8. writer one
      writer one
      Excellent! I edit and read the post every time I edit it. I have a fanatic about spelling and editing. But I have been told I do not make the correct words come out after the first sentence. I am doing the subject and predicate right, but after that members are telling me I am not flowing with the appropriate words. Writer One
    9. writer one
      writer one
      Believe me I try to construct sentence lenghts as short as possible and paragraphs as well. But my problem is after the first sentence with the subject and predicate, I tend to babble. For some reason the words I use, seem inadequate even if each word has a subject and predicate.

      I am a fanatic about using the right word within the sentence and the right sentence in the paragraph. After the first sentence which has a sentence and paragraph, I seem to babble after that and the story has no flow. I have been told that the story has nothing to do with the flow of the piece.

      The flow of the piece is a journalistic term meaning, what's written. Thoughts please. Writer One
    10. Alan Aspie
      Alan Aspie
      Story trumps all rules!
      jannert likes this.
    11. jannert
      I think I get what you're saying here ...maybe that a writer should tell the story they want to tell, and to heck with what people THINK they should be telling instead.

      However, unless you're just telling the story to yourself, your story must resonate with your readers. And if the readers don't know what you're talking about, or get stopped by all sorts of things such as bad grammar, unintentional sentence structure repetition, awkward phrasing, dialogue that seems aimless, etc, then your story has been derailed to some extent.

      "Rules" ...or—as I prefer to call them—"tricks of the trade" ...are there to make sure your story reaches your readers in a format they can understand and enjoy. You want them to be absorbed by your story, not distracted by stylistic glitches. In that sense, story doesn't trump rules.
    12. Alan Aspie
      Alan Aspie
      My point is this:

      The point of writing is the impact of reading. Reader must get something he/she did not have before reading.

      There are a lot of rules. Every rule has some kind of area where it is valid. Outside that area it either is valid or not or is partly valid or...

      Rules and story have some overlapping. Sometimes 100%. Sometimes only 60%. They may overlap in some part of story but not the other.

      No rule is valid all the time, everywhere.

      Something must tell writer where, when and how rules are valid - or not. Story and the impact of the story are that indicator.

      This is how story trumps all rules.

      In other words...

      jannert likes this.
    13. jannert
      Yes, I think I get what you're saying now.

      You're saying that what the writer wants the story to do will determine what rules the writers chooses to follow (or break?) Yes, I agree—if that's what you mean.

      Before, I was worried that you meant a story's content matters more than the way it's written. My point was that the way it's written will determine whether or not a reader 'gets' it. I reckon we are on the same page here. :)
      Alan Aspie likes this.
    14. Alan Aspie
      Alan Aspie
      Plus writer should know why some rule occupies certain area of communication.


      There are rules about how to make yourself understood. If someone misunderstands intentionally for some purpose that is important to him/her/whatever, you jump in to the trap if you try to make yourself understood. Then avoidance is your best option.

      Another example:

      You think information as a toolbox. Someone else thinks information as means to show off and fight in dominance hierarchies. You don't have common ground, but you can make some point clear.


      You want to make complex humour to intelligent but tired and stressed audience. You make your comic multidimentional, complex but keep pace in a walking or jogging speed. You don't run, fly or drag race.
      jannert likes this.

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