When it comes to grammar, writers tend to divide into two separate groups: the grammar police, known to frantically run down those guilty of petty grammatical crimes, and the grammar hippies, who believe that creativity shouldn’t be stifled by the archaic rules of English professors long dead. Personally, I fall somewhere in between. I have been known to obsessively scour my writing for grammatical errors and to proudly pinpoint mistakes discovered in novels or on corporate websites, and other times, I recklessly break all the rules. Writing is an art, and with any art, there are times to scribble within the lines and then there are times to push the boundaries. So, how does a writer know which rules to break and when to break them?
First, writers need to consider their audience. A technical writer who copy-writes for a large, formal corporation will not be granted the same flexibility as the writer of a casual blog. Fiction writers, on the other hand, may or may not be able to bend grammatical rules on their work in progress, depending on the point of view of their story. If your story is a first-hand narration of a Harvard graduate, then your readers will expect the story to abide by the rules of grammar more so than a story narrated by a druggie who dropped out of high school.
Second, be wary of which rules to break. Purposely misplacing an apostrophe will more likely serve to confuse your reader (or make them doubt your writing ability) than it will to enhance your writing. Certain rules are meant to be broken, while others should never be broken. For example, when writing dialogue it is not always best to write in complete sentences. Why? Because people don’t speak in complete sentences and it sounds unnatural. However, run-on and incomplete sentences found within exposition are usually best avoided, unless the exposition is written in first person. Don’t break the rules just because, break them only when it will strengthen the voice and tone of your writing. Ask yourself, “How does this enhance the style of and tone of my project?”
Lastly, listen to your reader’s feedback. Writers have a tendency to get tunnel vision while working on a project, and sometimes we fail to successfully see our work as a reader will see it. When you play with the rules of grammar, expect at least one grammar cop to cite you. But if one quickly turns into two, three, four, then 24…well, you might want to rethink your decision. Perhaps you purposely inserted that run-on sentence to add dramatic appeal but readers just don’t seem to “get it.” Well, that happens and it’s okay. If you want your readers to appreciate your writing, then be open to their feedback. If the majority of your readers say something isn’t working for them then it’s probably best to go back and revise.
Overall, grammar is a valuable tool to the writer, and one that all writers need to learn how to use properly but grammatical rules shouldn’t bar the writer in a cage. If the writing flows unevenly and starts to sound rigid, then it’s probably time to start breaking a few rules. The goal of the writer is to connect with their readers. Make grammar work for you, and don’t be afraid to bend the rules if it will benefit the finished product.
Please stay tuned to learn more about the intricacies of English grammar and how to use it to your advantage in all your writings.
Until next time.