JC: Literary Anarchy
WARNING: The views expressed in this blog are graphic in their portrayal of lawless composition. Reader discretion is advised.
I broke a rule today. I admit it. In fact, I’m proud of it. Given the same circumstances, I’d do it again.
I violated a point of view rule. Switched points of view in the middle of scene. Without a section break.
Does that make me a bad person?
It gets worse. When my editor attempted to correct it, I persuaded her to let it stand. I seduced her to the dark side. Not only am I a transgressor, but I’m tempting innocent editors to transgress with me in this vicious downward cycle of depravity.
Am I wicked?
That’s the danger of rule breaking, isn’t it? You get a taste for it. Violate a point of view today, and tomorrow…what? Deliberately misspelling words? Intentionally crafting run-on sentences?
Oh my, where will it end? We’re talking literary anarchy!
Blame John Milton. He resisted efforts to create order out of spelling chaos. Had he a dictionary, he would have burned it in protest. Milton opposed standardized spelling. He argued for the freedom to vary the spelling of a word for creative emphasis and impact.
Think of the chaos! If we didn’t have standardized spelling, what would happen to the National Spelling Bee?
Blame Dean Koontz. In an early book on writing bestselling fiction (now out of print; the publisher sites declining sales, but I suspect a rogue consortium of editors got to them), Koontz advocated writing sentences that were a page and a half long. He cited a time conundrum, when it takes longer to describe an action than it takes to enact it.
The accepted way to quicken narrative pace is to shorten sentences—a time-honored technique approved by editors. But sometimes short sentences make the narrative choppy. Koontz advocated using commas, semi-colons, and colons to create one long breathless sentence.
But the technique comes with a price. Publishing houses have reported that incidents of editor apoplexy are on the rise. They point to page and half sentences as a contributing cause.
Another example of literary anarchy is e. e. cummings who slaughtered capitalization rules with abandon. He got away with it because everyone thinks poets are cute and no one takes them seriously.
Breaking literary rules is a serious matter. Don’t try it at home. Leave it to the professionals.
If you break a rule and it works, everyone copies you. If there’s a ground swell of public rule breaking, they’ll change the rule. The split infinitive is the poster-boy for recent changes. Once the favorite target of editors and English teachers, now it’s acceptable to occasionally split those pesky infinitives.
If you break narrative rules and it works, English Lit teachers will read your prose aloud to their classes as a brave example of stylized writing. You’re a genius.
But what if you break the rules and it doesn’t work? Simple. You’re a hack.
Call me a rebel, a throwback to the lawless sixties and tie-dyed shirts and psychedelic posters and protest songs, but a little literary anarchy now and again is a good thing. Sometimes authority must be challenged. Sometimes Strunk and White and Webster’s are wrong. (Gasp!)
Sometimes a writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do.
ADVISORY: No rules were harmed in the writing of this blog.
Jack Cavanaugh is the co-author of Storm. http://www.stevelaube.com/authors/jackcavanaugh.htm