Never! Stop! Don’t!

We’ve all heard those words. Never … (you fill in the blank)! Stop…! Don’t…! They’re edicts we must follow. Right?

Of course not.

Never write sentence fragments

Never start a sentence with and or but. Never end a sentence with a preposition. Beware of sentence fragments. Oh yes, the terrible sentence fragment. When I was in school the English teacher often returned my assigned paper with big red marks and the word FRAGMENT on the side of several “sentences.” Sentence fragments are bad, I was taught.

Well, if you’re a reader, you know sentence fragments are often used in commercial fiction. If you’re a writer, you probably use them yourself. Yes, if you use too many (especially several close together), they can become distracting and ruin the flow of the writing. But, if you want to break up the sentence structure or emphasize a thought or feeling, then a sentence fragment may be exactly what you want/need.

Stop using two spaces after a period. Stop using the tab key. Stop…

Okay, I’ll admit it. I get hung up on formatting. When reading or critiquing a manuscript, if I see what I perceive as formatting errors (usually created by people who learned to type on a typewriter), it stops me from concentrating on the content. I know it’s foolish; yet I can’t stop myself from telling the writer how to use the “first line” indent feature of Word and how to change the two spaces after a period to one (i.e., if they can’t train themselves to automatically make that switch).

But does any of that really matter? Formatting should be secondary to content, and I’m sure if an editor finds the story (or information) compelling, a few formatting errors won’t stop the offer of a contract. I’ve read books where the formatting is different from what I’ve been taught: chapters start at the top of the page, not 1/3 of the way down; a new chapter starts on the same page as the preceding chapter; all paragraphs are block style with gaps between them; font style and size changes within the chapter; and so on.

Breaking the formatting rules may help the story rather than hurt it.

Don’t use all caps to emphasize something.

In one of the critique groups I belong to we have a former editor who helps us with Chicago style editing (which most publishing houses use). She’s a benefit to the group because she explains when we should write out a number and when we can use the numeric symbol, when a word needs to be capitalized and when it shouldn’t be, and so on. She’s often told a writer not to use all caps to emphasize a word or thought, but to use italics.

Her information is correct, yet I’ve read published books where the writer has used all caps in the text to emphasize a thought or statement. Technically it may be wrong, but it works.

So when does NEVER, STOP, and DON’T mean never do this, stop doing that, or don’t…?

Probably never.

We, as writers, should know the correct way to format, punctuate, spell, and use proper grammar, but once we know these rules, we shouldn’t let them dictate what or how we write. First impressions do count, and when submitting to a traditional publisher, it’s best to follow their guidelines, but if you believe writing a sentence or formatting your book a certain way will make the story better, then do it.

Never say never.

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16 Responses to Never! Stop! Don’t!

  1. Kathy Crouch says:

    I had so much fun, being sarcastic here, after I wrote my November NaNoWriMo project on an Android Tablet and a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. I had some places with 2 spaces, some with one, because trying to write and type in a 7 inch tablet makes for lots of fun.

    As for formating, that seems to get lost sometimes when a document is emailed, but not always.

    I’ve had notes included with contest entries not to count off for formatting due to emailing.
    For contests

    I wish everyone would develop an electronic scoring like Kiss of Death had for the Daphne.

    I wonder if Google sheets couldn’t be formatted to work as a score sheet?

    • Maris Soule says:

      Kathy, I agree with you regarding the Kiss of Death score sheets. So easy to use. It really bothers me when I hear new writers being told “You must never do this!” How confusing it must be for the new writer to later look at a published book and see the “never” has been done and done successfully.

  2. Great post Maris and good advice
    Thanks for sharing
    Good luck and God’s blessings

  3. Anne says:

    That particular writers’ group missed you last night, Maris. And now I may never know if the formatting on my story was correct. Never.

    • Maris Soule says:

      Thanks for saying you missed me, Anne. I downloaded your story and hope to get to it before the end of this week. I’ll let you know regarding the formatting.

  4. Hi Maris,

    I agree–know the rules before you break them. Then you know why you’re breaking them. It makes for more interesting content.

    • Maris Soule says:

      At times I really do get hung up on formatting, so it’s always like a kick in the pants when I see one of the “rules” broken and realize it didn’t matter one bit, maybe even made reading the story easier.

  5. Lucy Kubash says:

    Guess it goes back to “know the rules before you break them.” Those of us who remember when it was okay to head hop struggled sometimes to get into a one POV per scene mode. Now it’s deep POV that’s the thing, and I find myself using more sentence fragments trying to get into it. Have to admit I’m still a tabber, but I have mastered the one space after the period. Good post!

    • Maris Soule says:

      Lucy, they say learning new things keeps the mind active. You and I have certainly had to learn a lot of new things associated with publishing.

  6. Melissa Keir says:

    The only Don’t I listen to is Don’t Give up! Never Stop Writing…:)

  7. Sharon says:

    I am too green at proper way of formatting still, and a slow learner on top of that. The only “rule” I can think of that I break isn’t really a rule, per se, but something I see offered as advise quite a bit. –Write a draft of your novel and then go back and trim, edit, fix. — I am currently on chapter thirteen of my wip, and if I get a bit of writers block, I go back to previous chapters- fix them- jot ideas for coming chapters, and I also have started a second wip, mainly just getting my character notes together, and a starting scene. This seems to be working for me. 🙂

    • Maris Soule says:

      Sharon, the only rule (in my opinion) is do what works for you. Some writers can write straight through, others do as you described, forward for a bit, then back for a bit, then forward again. The main rule, if you want to be published, is finish the story, make it the best you can, and then send it out.

  8. There is only 1 rule for writing:

    #1: Don’t bore the reader.

    All other “rules” are simply tips to help you achieve the one and only rule.

    If anyone, at any time, has seen success when breaking a “rule”, can it be considered a rule?