Fictional rule-breaking

Most of you are aware that I write a lot of fiction on this blog. Just lately, I have been posting a daily serial that is currently twenty-three episodes in, and I have written close to four hundred stories and serialisation episodes over the last seven years. A few of my stories have been published elsewhere too, in magazines and on websites.

None of these fictional pieces have ever been subject to the attentions of a professional editor or proof reader, though David Miller very kindly emails me with errors he has spotted, or the incorrect use of the wrong character’s name on occasion.

I started writing stories at junior school, and most were well-received. On three occasions, I won a prize for them, in my English class. But back in the early 1960s, teachers were strict, and their adherence to grammar and English even stricter. That carried on into my secondary school, right up until the time I left to start work. Lots of rules. Rules about sentence construction, when to use a new paragraph, how much punctuation was acceptable, and how to show events through the eyes of characters or observers. I kept to those rules.

When I decided to start writing fiction again, I made a conscious decision to ignore a few of those rules. A lot of them, in fact. I would write the stories as I saw them in my head, more or less as if transcribing a film I was watching. If that didn’t work for some readers, then so be it.

One golden rule is that a dead character cannot tell a story. If they are dead, then how did we know what they did, or what they were thinking? Films deal with this dilemma by using flashbacks, or camera angles that show the viewer a reaction. The eyes of a strangling victim will show terror to the viewer, but in literature, we cannot say ‘She stared at her killer in terror’, because she cannot have told us that. We have to say something like ‘He noticed the look of terror in her eyes’. In one of my serials, a young girl notices the unusually white smile of her murderer. But how could I know what she noticed, as he had killed her?

I resolved to ignore such rules, and write the fiction in a style that I enjoyed.

I also use a lot of commas. My English teacher used to write on my essays in a red pen, ‘Too many commas!’ She would put a small ‘X’ next to every one of them she felt was unnecessary. The same with paragraphs. A red line with the capital letters ‘NP!’ I can still see all her corrections in my mind even now. But I am no longer in her class, so I don’t have to follow her rules anymore. I write sentences, paragraphs, and character conversations as if I am speaking them. So I use commas for natural pauses, like taking breaths. Not ‘proper grammar’, I know.

But I don’t care.

So if you have ever noticed any glaring errors in my construction, writing, or interactions between characters, that’s why.

I intentionally break those rules.

71 thoughts on “Fictional rule-breaking

  1. English has changed, Pete. I often get corrections from my editor for “mistakes” I made due to being taught differently from how things are down now. I was taught never to put a comma before a but or an and, but now this is something you must do in writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true, Robbie. When I started writing again in 2012, I noticed huge changes from my early schooling in the late 1950s. So I thought ‘Why not? I will break those rules I used to live by’.
      Best wishes, Pete. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I use improper grammar all the time! ๐Ÿ˜‚ I feel you should do whatever makes you feel comfortable, Love.๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ’š Either way we are going to enjoy your musings, at least I know I always will. Also I love breaking some rules now & again.๐Ÿ˜‰ Hope you have a great day, my friend. I hope to catch up on your new serial today.๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ’™

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think a lot of writers ignore some of these hard-and-fast rules that were ingrained into us by strict English teachers. I don’t think of myself as much of a rule-breaker when it comes to law and order, but I love the freedom to ignore some of those old writing rules.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think a lot of the rules taught in school were intended for expository writing like essays and papers in school and college. Fiction is different; rules are a lot looser. However, the blogosphere is full of editors and others holding forth about what writers should and shouldn’t do, lists of “weak” words, etc. Some of these have merit as guidelines, but I can’t help quibbling some of them. That’s furnished me with a few blog posts, anyway!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for the info, Pete! No problem! Just something like an emergency solution, because I really couldn’t find a picture postcard. I reminded me that there is a scripture stand with postcards in the Church. But since this pastor, ten horses have not brought me into our church. Best wishes, Michael

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I have always written things considered either “terse” or “too short.” I remember a professor’s confusing comment when she said,”Your essay is too short but you seem to have covered all the points.” Agh!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this Pete. You’re the author and you can do what you please. Though I’m not the prolific writer that you are, I’m learning the same thing on my blog. I like the way certain words and phrases sound sometimes even though I know full well they are not complete sentences. So what? It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to! ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t remember which famous author first wrote the advice in his ‘help other wanna be’s to be writers’ book, but I remember coming across a versions of the same advice in many ways over the years, from many books and teachers – – basically, me ‘note to self’ in the grey matter is…

    “Learn the rules so you can very creatively break them.” – :). part of honing and always improving your own ‘style and voice’ is what me ticker-tape brain categorizes it under – LOL

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounded like you were – my way of saying so – since I couldn’t quickly figure out the keyboard shortcuts for the clapping hands emoji – – LOL. Sometimes, it’s just easier and quicker to type it out – for me….bless you for your kindness in reading my chatty-typpie-finger ways – ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  8. your writings come across crystal clear so i’m not too concerned about commas, or anything like that. i am not a writer at all and my grammar is very poor but i write from the heart. to me, that’s all that matters. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have no problem starting sentences with “And…” or “But…” They actually give a paragraph flow. I’m something of a stickler for general grammatical rules, and definitely put commas to good use. But I pay no attention to the many rules that govern plot development, style, setting, and characterization. Rather, I write in a manner that pleases me. In my opinion, a good writer does his/her own thing. That becomes the writer’s trademark. As you know, I enjoy your writing very much, and often find little “gems” in your text.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Grammar is a nightmare and I have never really grasped the rules. Commas are not too bad but what about colons and semi colons? I’ve tried the various tests of grammar on line but I never do particularly well so I would never make even a moderate journalist.

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  11. I endorse your preference for writing in your own style, Pete, and I can’t say from what I’ve read of yours hitherto that there is a plethora, or even surfeit, of commas; it has been observed to me – not an outright negative criticism as such – that I use long sentences, so commas, colons & semicolons are essential, of course, but that is my preference: I don’t enjoy what I call the ‘journalistic’ style. Of writing. With many. Short sentences. ๐Ÿ˜‰ The only grammatical rule that I remember from my grammar school (and I’m positive I didn’t imagine it!) is never to start a sentence with And or But, and that is a rule I adhere to, doggedly, although it does make me very much the exception to the rule! Cheers, Jon.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. You’re really quite a little rebel, aren’t you? And your writing is all the better for it. In fact, I find it a wonderfully liberating experience to consciously break the rules when the muse requires it. And, as you say, if someone doesn’t like that, that’s OK. As the saying goes, you can’t please everyone: you’re not pizza.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Good for you…the Grammar Police are unneeded……Sue loves your stories….I wish I would like fiction but I am a facts person….keep writing in your style…that is why it is called a “Style”….chuq

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Great stuff. I love the way you say the truth. Your stories should be more important than commas or paragraphs. I loved your horror story and I even told you that. When I was busy reading it, I didn’t even notice any mistake. Your stories are interesting and that is and should be the bottom line. To hell with mistakes, we all make them but there are some people who read stories just to find mistakes and embarrass, confuse and discourage the writer. Just be you. We like you and love your stories. Too long, yet again!! ๐Ÿ˜ŠโœŒ

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