A Stickler for Rules



So I never realised that I was a stickler for rules until I was coerced into reading a book for uni. It was a Cormac McCarthy novel that I’m refusing to name because I just…it infuriated me to read it. I didn’t actually get to finish it because of my course load and the fact that I just blatantly hated it. Hating a book has always made it hard for me to read something from cover to cover (indifference too, I will not, nor will I ever read LoTR, sorry guys). But the story was engaging, it was Cormac McCarthy, of course it was engaging, but it was the style or the blatant lack of actually using anything that was normal, in writing, that made me so upset.

There was not a single hint of punctuation, no real paragraphs, or even chapters.

There was no structure.

I hated it.

Everyone seemed to laugh at me because of it, I didn’t realise that the norms I took for granted seemed to be so ingrained in me that it made me resistant to change.

But Cormac McCarthy did something beautiful. He broke the rules and he did it in such a way, that while I was angry, was amazing. He knew the rules and knew how to break them so they still worked. It’s what every writer, I feel at least, needs to understand. If you know the rules you can break them, it’s the same with just about anything that you do in life. Don’t you jaywalk? There’s a rule against that but we still do it. It’s hard not to, but we know that we can break that rule on two conditions; one, that there are no cops around and two, there are no cars around to hit us. Everyone one of you are currently nodding your heads, I know you are!

The same goes with writing, who says that we have to put that comma there? Or the question mark at the end of that sentence. Sure all of those sticklers for punctuation will rage at you (Lynne Truss is one, I assure you) but who is really there to police you if you can break the rules well? No one. No one can really do much of it at all. You’re the one with the power in this case and you can use anyway you like.

I have Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style on my desk and it has a ratty bookmark in it at the start somewhere. I can’t bring myself to actually get through this, or at least in the past I haven’t (Strunk and White are next after The Little Green Grammar Book) because it was so full of rules and structure. I’m starting to sound like I’m a walking contradiction and mostly I am. While I love studying because it has structure, I hate having a structure in my life. Scheduling things doesn’t really work, but that may be because I’m a rule break. I like to test the boundaries. 

I’ve played around, in my writing, with linear and non linear timelines because I love to play around with those the most. It’s why I love infusing things with flashbacks. One of my novels (and a short story) was written from the end point and went backwards. It wasn’t executed very well (I have to rewrite them both!) but it was probably one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life. A great example of this (and someone who tried it for their FIRST published novel) is Jodi Picoult. Get your hands on Songs of a Humpback Whale and you will see just how beautifully  it’s executed. I love being able to challenge the norm when it comes to writing.

We’re all rule breakers underneath it all. Tell me, what’s one rule that you break and why.  I know I’m not alone!

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