7 Writing Rules you can (and should) Break
Even though the editorial process is there to iron out any problems, it can be hard to know what the rules of writing are.
Thankfully, times are changing. The evolving nature of language and the availability of a greater variety of stories mean that there is a tonne of writing rules we can finally forget about!
Let’s kick off with our top 7 writing rules you can (and should!) break.
Rule TO BREAK #1
You should use ‘whom’
Now this is one rule we’re very glad to see the back of; using whom instead of who.
Traditionally, whom is used in place of ‘him’ or ‘her’ while who is used if it’s describing the subject of the sentence, like these examples:
Who used up the last of the milk?
To whom should I speak to about refilling the milk?
The issue with whom is that it reads pretty awkwardly in contemporary fiction writing. Plus, it often relies on the sentence being passive to be used. Both of these things are to be avoided, so many modern authors ignore it altogether and use who for everything.
Rule TO BREAK #2
You should never split infinitives
What would the unforgettable phrase ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’ be without a split infinitive? A split infinitive happens when an adjective or adverb is added in between the word to and the verb in question.
This isn’t to say that you should be splitting infinitives everywhere, but if moving the adverb changes the meaning of the sentence, leave it where it is.
Rule TO BREAK #3
Never use conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence
In school you were probably told that you can never use ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘or’ at the start of the sentence. The fact is that this is totally wrong.
As long as you’re not doing it too frequently and the sentence makes sense, there’s nothing wrong with using a conjunction at the beginning. In fact, this rule stems from our next one…
Rule TO BREAK #4
Avoid adverbs at all costs
Not all adverbs are evil, but unnecessary adverbs are. There are no rules to say that you can’t use adverbs, but you can use ones that tell us something extra about the verb.
For instance, in the sentence ‘she smiled happily’, the adverb happily doesn’t tell us anything new. But in the sentence ‘she smiled sadly’, the adverb sadly tells us something extra about the verb. Don’t ignore adverbs for the sake of it. Instead, question what they are trying to say.
Rule TO BREAK #5
Avoid ‘said’ in dialogue
Some writers get struck by a case of ‘thesaurus syndrome’ and look for endless synonyms for the same word. But the reality is that there’s nothing wrong at all with the word ‘said’. In fact, ‘said’ often works best of all.
Some writing advice claims that you should use a different verb each time someone talks. Vivid verbs are an amazing way to enhance dialogue and tell us something new, but too many can feel like showing off.
Said is simple and it gets the job done. It’s better to pepper in vivid verbs than overload the reader with a brand new verb each time.
Rule TO BREAK #6
You should ignore your gut if you think something is wrong
Readable, engaging writing isn’t as simple as just following the rules or ignoring the ones that are out of date. Reading your work out loud, checking it out of order and reworking your sentences is the only way to get your writing just right.
Listen to your gut if you think a phrase or sentence sounds wrong. But how do you know if something feels wrong? By paying attention to our next rule…
Rule TO BREAK #7
Breaking the rules before you know them first
This final point is probably the most important: you can’t break a rule if you don’t know it.
Grammar rules take a lot of time to get to grips with and any piece of writing needs revision. The fact that some grammar rules are out of date doesn’t mean that they can be broken all the time.
After all, you need to give the impression that you know what you’re doing. Being discerning with the writing rules you break is the way to do this. Lots of adverbs, splitting infinitives left and right or adding conjunctions everywhere just says that you don’t know the rules. Every writer will have their own style, but don’t let the grammar police cramp yours. Remember, less is always more!
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