Breaking the Rules
A friend who teaches middle school English once said everything we teach about writing is wrong. We tell students to start each paragraph with a topic sentence and avoid sentence fragments at all costs. Then we introduce them to literature that opens with a hook and uses fragments to great effect.
While some “rules” are just plain wrong, others need to be learned before they’re broken. They bring clarity and focus. Not only scientific writing and business correspondence but even poetry strays from them only for a purpose. Strong writers may break the rules to convey a mood, set a tone, engage the reader – not to assert an excuse for incoherent rambling.
Something similar happens with rules of behavior and social interaction. No rulebook can cover every situation. We start by learning rules to show courtesy and respect. As we grow up, we learn to make judgment calls. I recall struggling over how far to participate in morning ceremonies as an American child at a Canadian summer camp, or in worship services of a faith that wasn’t mine. Those questions have no one right answer. Thoughtful adults may break a rule for a considered purpose, not as an excuse for rudeness.
10/30/2017 08:40:38 am
Okay this is how I would like it to be, learn the rules, how things should be done, then as we have experiences and exposure decide for ourselves. But....some people decide incorrectly and so I want to swoop in and tell them how wrong they are.....ah well,
So true, Jan! In these situations that require a judgment call, it's easy for me to say there's no one right answer - until a specific situation comes up, where I'm persuaded that my answer is the right one and others are wrong. "I may not always be right" is comfortable generalization, for me, but case by case - what does it mean to think something if not to think that my judgment call is the correct one? And be tempted to swoop.
10/30/2017 09:34:05 am
You two are scaring me. :)
10/30/2017 09:32:03 am
Sarah, this is interesting to think about. For the most part I run with people whose thoughts are coherent and well organized, or so you would think. But when it comes to writing their thoughts, or preparing them for a presentation, I have found... maybe not so much. Rules are a good place to start. Some people never learn them well, for any number of reasons, but I think everyone should know them: It's necessary at our most basic level of communication if we want to carry on a conversation consisting of thoughts that are more than a sentence or two long at a time.
Yes, rules are a good place to start, if we mean the real (usage-based) rules and not the arbitrary ones based on Latin or math. The matter is further complicated by the fact that spoken English and written English are somewhat different languages with different sets of rules. Trying to apply the rules of writing to conversation muddies the waters at least as much as it clarifies anything.
4/29/2019 09:48:49 am
In writing, there is no standard rule that we should follow. As long as you feel like you need to do it and the emotion is there, then you are doing a smooth-sailing job. As a journalism student she was exposed to different types of writing, no style is either right or wrong that’s why we should write based on what our hearts are saying. Especially if it’s a creative piece, always listen to your heart because there is a chance that you are taking the right path of writing!
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.