Write of Way #12 – Be a Grammar Rebel
That’s right, today’s post is about grammar. *Cue terrified screams / pitiful moans*
Still, I like you all too much, my valued readers, to subject you to some dry, lengthy post on unimportant grammar minutiae. (This is certainly the truth and not a fabrication.)
I am here to talk about grammar, just, maybe not in the way that you think.
As writers, whether we want to admit it or not, we live in a world of grammar. We have to know its rules (I mean, some of them, at least), and we have to abide by them.
Or do we?
Well, yes. Unfortunately.
Just not all of them. And maybe not all of the time.I’m no grammar expert by any means, but over the course of my writing career I have run into a few methods that have opened my eyes to the importance of using grammar…shall we say…creatively?
Like I said, I’m not a grammar expert, so I’m not sure how to explain these methods other than through examples. Here goes.
1.) Interrupting internal dialogue with an external force.
Okay, that’s a really unexciting way to say that. Let me explain.
It’s relatively common to see situations where a speaking character is cut off mid-sentence. It could be because someone interrupted them, or because someone ran a sword through them, or because, well, any number of reasons. Commonly this method will look something like this:
“No, it’s not that I like being interrupted mid-sentence, it’s just that I’m an example so there’s nothing I can do to st—” The author cut him off with all the mercy of a guillotine.
See what happened there? You’ve probably seen it before. Nothing new. Well good, because now we’re going to expand on the idea.
If a character can be interrupted mid-sentence, it makes sense they can also being interrupted mid-thought, yeah? So why can’t we do something like this:
“No, it’s not that I like being interrupted mid-sentence, it’s just that I’m an example so there’s nothing I can do to stop it,” Henry said. He knew it was coming. Knew there was nothing he could do about it. Knew that no matter what he did, no matter how much he dreaded it, it was inevit— The author cut him off with all the mercy of another guillotine, this one very much like the first.
And boom! Mid-thought interruption! Awesome, isn’t it? Well, the first time I tried it in writing, my classmates didn’t think so. For a long time, that forced me away from the idea of using this. Eventually, however, I got bold (re: reckless) enough to try it again. Now, I use it whenever it feels appropriate.
I commonly use this when an unexpected event catches a point of view character by surprise. In the real world, external forces can interrupt our thoughts just as easily as our speech. It seems silly to think we can’t reproduce this in text.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, you can do creative things with grammar to create certain effects. You just might be told it’s going to fail. And sometimes it will, but failure is nothing more than a prelude to success, as long as you learn from it.
2. Repeating the same word sentence after sentence.
Again, boring title because I don’t really know what else to call this method. These things just kind of come to me organically. I’m not a grammarologist, people, I don’t name and classify them based on genus and species!
Let’s use another example.
Well, actually, I already gave an example of this in my last example. You could say it was an example within an example – like a writer-centric version of Inception.
He knew it was coming. Knew there was nothing he could do about it. Knew that no matter what he did, no matter how much he dreaded it, it was inevit—
Whenever I use this technique, it follows the same basic structure as seen above. It’s always three sentences, the first sentence always starts with “[Person] [focus word]” and the following two sentences always start with the focus word again. The last sentence will end with some sort of strong statement relating to the focus word. In this case, it’s Henry knowing the interruption is inevitable.
I use this particular method to draw attention to something important. It’s like hammering home the importance of one singular thought I want to emphasize.
And again, people will likely tell you this is too liberal and creative. It goes against the rules of sentence structure. Well, I say sentence structure can piss right off, because I’m doing this for a reason. It’s worked for me so far and none of my editors have complained about it yet. Maybe that means my editors are letting things slide, but I’d like to take it as meaning it’s okay to be a grammar rebel when you have a reason to do so.
3. S.E.E.RS., or Statement, Explanation, Explanation, Repeat Statement with a twist.
Okay, this one definitely earns the reward for least succinct name but have faith in the example.
I often find this method is particularly powerful for opening a scene. I used it as an opening paragraph in an early draft of my first novel, Servant of Rage.
A hunter on the steppe might pursue any variety of quarry. The swift musk deer or the fierce boar. Sometimes even the elusive but deadly brush cat. The Khan’s hunters, however, pursued only one: man.
Does the method title make a bit more sense now? The example opens with a statement, then proceeds to explain that statement for two sentences, before repeating the statement again but with a twist. It may just be my writing style, but I prefer to make that twist a dark one.
I think it’s a fun and interesting way to lead with an unexceptional statement, then twist it into something much more. Catch your readers off guard, perhaps.
Anyway, all of these methods are examples of why I think it’s entirely okay to be a grammar rebel. Exploring methods like these are how we continue to expand writing as both a science and an art form.
After all, writers are explorers of the imagination and it’s the job of explorers to, well, explore.
So, don’t be afraid to be a grammar rebel. Learn the rules of grammar, know why you should follow them, and then, when you have a good reason not to follow them, chuck ‘em right out the window and do your own thing.
You never know what you’ll come up with.
As always, I love to hear your thoughts. Do you grammatically rebel? In what way, and what’s your reason for doing so?