Break the Rules…On Purpose

As a rule, writers should have a good grasp of the rules. Rules of grammar. Style. Usage. And the fundamental rule that you never walk the out man. Oh, wait, that’s baseball. It’s a good rule, though.

As a writer and an editor, I like the rules. Most of the time, they make perfect sense because they make things easier and clearer for the reader, which is one of the keys to good style. For example, whereas I find it wise and useful to agree with Steve Laube quickly and completely in all things, there is one important area in which we disagree. You see, he has publicly (oh, the shame!) accepted the singular “they” (see this blog post), which I consider an abomination. There’s always room for disagreement among friends and colleagues, but in this matter, I happen to be right, and he happens to be insane.

Still, I’m willing to grant that there are times when the tried-and-tested rules of grammar, style, and usage are broken…wisely and effectively. Not by Steve, but by other people. So, I asked my writing friends on Facebook to reveal what grammar or writing “rule” they sometimes break, intentionally and purposefully.

For example, I learned in school (yes, there were schools when I was younger) that a paragraph should always comprise more than one sentence.

So much for that.

Diana Sharples answered, “I break a lot of rules as I execute the teenage voice of my characters. Starting with contractions. Fragments. Run-on (especially for girls when they’re excited). And I ‘might could’ use some southern jargon that gives some editors fits.”

Well, sure. In fiction. What about nonfiction?

Steve Simms says he breaks the rule that says one should use a semicolon only to separate thoughts that could stand as complete sentences on their own. “Instead,” he says, “I like to use a semicolon as if it is a ‘major comma’—kind of a ‘comma exclamation point.’ What is it about guys named Steve?

Janet McHenry, a high school English teacher for twenty-six years, confessed, “I often start a sentence with a conjunction because readers expect both fiction and nonfiction (I write both) to be more conversational than they were in the past.”

Carol Ashby admits to both “ending a sentence with a preposition and beginning a sentence with a conjunction (and or but). I published scientific articles for years, and formal rules were always applied. It took me at least a year writing fiction to stop cringing when I started a sentence with But instead of However.

Shena Ashcraft commented: “I love short sentences. And incomplete sentences. And breaking rules, as a rule. Seriously.”

Sara Beth Williams added, “I also love sentence fragments. It creates a more unique and realistic sense of personality in my opinion, especially in internal dialogue. When it comes external to dialogue, rules are meant to be ignored.” Really. And she’s not even named Steve.

Beth Brubaker goes even further, confessing a love for “one-word sentences. Seriously. And making a series of them to prove a point. I’m. Not. Kidding.” I. Might. Throw. Up.

Finally, Yolanda Smith admits to breaking the “Who vs. whom” rule. “I love using whom,” she says, “but apparently everyone else thinks it sounds stuffy.” I must confess, too. Occasionally, when I knew I should use whom, I used who instead, not so much for fear of sounding stuffy but because I was pretty sure whom would compete with rather than support what I was trying to say, depending on whom my reader was.

Your Turn:

What about you? Are there rules you break…knowingly and to a good purpose?


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