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…?
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.