Breaking the rules

In writing, the basics matter. But they don’t dictate style.

One thing that I’ve always liked about writing is that it has a strict set of rules – a basic structure that needs to be followed at all times in order to transfer meaning and message in the most efficient form. Its rules are so precise – its grammar, its spelling, its sentence structure and spacing and punctuation and hidden rules involving dangling prepositions and spliced commas.

The other thing I’ve liked? That all of these rules can be thrown out the window in the guise of personal style.

At my job, it’s necessary to know the rules of writing in order to break the rules of writing. That’s fun. Advertising needs to be short and punchy, effective outside of the rules. You have to know what’s what – which rules to break in which circumstances.

The same goes for great fiction, or well-written non-fiction. Run-on sentences show a hurried collection of thoughts. Sentence fragments illustrate the broken and poignant atmosphere that surrounds them. Grammar is necessary, but only as a clarifying principle. It comes down to word selection more than rules – word selection that works in conjunction with the basics of language. Because even though the rules can be broken, the rules still…well…rule.

This rule-breaking occurs throughout modern culture. Think of art, business, public speaking, transportation. The basics are important – and need to be studied, practiced and perfected. Only then can one fully understand the purpose of breaking them to make a better point. You can’t change a recipe if you don’t know how it worked to begin with.

That’s all. That’s one of the reasons I love writing so much. Just something I was thinking about.

This was lovingly handwritten on April 19th, 2007