3. Grammar: When wrong is right

Let me start this post off saying that grammar is important. There are certain rules that you should pay attention to, edit for, and keep in mind when you’re writing a story. If you don’t know the basic rules of grammar, you will not succeed as a writer.

That being said, sometimes picking your spots and breaking those holy rules can make your writing clearer, more concise, and improve the flow of your work. Remember, writing is an art, and often times what feels natural isn’t going to always be grammatically correct. Here’s an example.

  • “I thought we had something special, really special, but, you leave me to join the circus.”
  • “I thought we had something special, but you left me to join the circus.”
  • “I thought we had something special. But you left me to join the circus!”

Dialogue is probably the most appropriate part of writing where some grammar rules can be disregarded. But that’s not to say other rules still don’t apply. Read the first sentence above. It’s hard to get through. The verb tenses don’t match up, there’s no real flow to the sentence. It’s miserable, just like the poor bastard who was thrown to the curb for a circus career.

The second example is fine. It works, it’s concise, it reads well. But it could be better, right?

The third example breaks a rule that was engrained in me in my high-school English class. “Don’t start a sentence with a conjunction.” It’s a simple rule, easy to understand, but why is it necessary. (It’s not.) Start a sentence with a conjunction if you want. They’re your words. Mrs. Holstein isn’t going to track you down and give you a B- on your short story because you started a sentence with ‘but’. In the third example above, the sentence reads well, has a nice hard pause for effect, and sounds the most natural out of the three.

So when it comes to rules, ask yourself: what rules do I break when I speak? There isn’t some universal list of rules that you can chalk up as unnecessary and make a mockery of with your writing. But if something sounds natural, it’s ok to take a chance with the grammar Gods and write what works.

Write on!

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