Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"But, the thing is that you cannot improvise unless you know exactly what you're doing."

I've read quite a lot about how you have to learn the rules before you're allowed to break any of them (in writing).  The axiom is oft repeated but there is never a clear reason given.  I'm not sure if it is something that you have to discover for yourself or if the people who write it believe the truth to be obvious.

I have learned, over the past months that knowing the rules and following them push the mechanics of storytelling to the background allowing the tale itself to come front and center.  The reason is quite simple -- mistakes are distracting and obfuscate the path of the narrative.  Bad grammar is bad style and terribly unprofessional in the workplace.

Consider my favorite sentence from 8th grade.  Teh bOY het an balle.  English teachers say, "What?"  You can figure it out, but it takes a lot of work and by the time you get to the end, you forgot where you started.  The boy hit a ball.  Much clearer.  Boring, perhaps, but clear.

Once you've got the rules down (I highly recommend this blog: Daily Writing Tips) so that every time you write anything it comes out grammatically perfect -- except the verbs, those can't all be perfect -- you can work on the depth of the story.  As you do that, a funny thing happens.  You get into a rhythm and realize that the only way to make a certain point or describe a feeling is by mashing up the usual writing a little bit.  But we're creatures of habit, so when we do that, it's consistent.  Whoah.

We learn to break (bend?) the rules in certain places and ways in a consistent manner to better tell our stories.  That's our voice.  Bad grammar isn't voice, that's just random distraction.  But applied to the right place at the right time... Elmore Leonard, Stieg Larsson, Dick Francis.

Today's title is a quote from this man.

Imagine your 8th grade English teacher reading that sentence.  “The boy hit a ball.”  Now imagine Christopher Walken reading it.  "The boy -- we don't know what boy, but he’s there -- wherever there is because apparently we don't know that either -- but anyways, that boy hit.  A ball.  Some kind of ball.  If he was in Brazil, it would probably be a -- a soccer ball.  But in Jersey, it could be anything.  That boy."

1 comment:

  1. Right you are, Jon. Effective use of our beautiful language should not call attention to itself either by being pretentious or by being used incorrectly.