Friday, July 3, 2015

5 ways breaking rules makes your writing more powerful (a guest post)


We’re getting ready for our big family vacation in Canada, so I’m turning over the steering wheel to the capable hands of author and speaker Dawn Goldberg Shuler, who’s here to talk about…

5 Reasons to Break Writing Rules

imageAs a lifelong writer, former English teacher, and writing coach and communication consultant for the last ten years, most people think that I write perfectly, no mistakes in grammar, structure, punctuation... it's all perfect.

Nope! I don't write perfectly at all. Actually, I don't know that I ever write anything that an English teacher wouldn't get her red pen out for (case in point).

I do it on purpose. I start sentences with "And" or "But." I use ellipses as if I have a huge box of them, and they must be used! I use slang; heck, I use my own made-up words like "baddies." I end sentences with prepositions. I use numbers instead of writing them out. Sometimes my sentences are not complete sentences.

With my writing background, why in the world would I break writing rules? Here's the thing... I know exactly what the rules are, and, more importantly, I know WHY I'm breaking them. I have a reason.

Those reasons usually fall into one of five areas:

1. Makes the writing more conversational.

Makes the writing more conversational, so that it sounds as if I'm actually talking to you.

Example: "Hey, I've been where you are." or "What the heck was I thinking?" These are sentences that I would very likely use talking face-to-face to someone.

2. Creates flow and connection.

Whether I'm breaking writing rules or not, my goal is to make my writing as powerful as possible, and one of my favorite techniques is to create parallel structure.

Example: "Be able to accurately shoot an arrow at any target at almost any distance... to turn into a green muscled beast... to create amazing suits that can fly, fight, dive, and take baddies up into space... Who wouldn't want those powers?" Those aren't complete sentences, but I sacrificed perfect sentence construction for the power of repeating the structure of the phrases.

3. Recognizes the visual piece of reading.

A reader does more than just take in content and concepts as she reads. Reading is a visual activity, and so the brain analyzes all sorts of things as the eye scans the page or screen: amount of white space, length of paragraphs, formatting like subheadings and bullets. I try to keep this in mind as I write, so I use some punctuation like ellipses to visually cue the reader that these elements are connected... and to give the eye a bit of a break.

Example: "You'll get the hang of it... just remember to get your sketchpad!"

4. Makes the writing accessible.

If I get all proper and write, "This is the material for whom it's meant," some people are going to think I'm being snooty. So, occasionally, I'll deliberately write or say something incorrectly, just because I know how it will land if I don't.

Example: "I do need to figure out how to ask for help. First, I'm not sure what to ask for."

5. Brings my authentic self into my writing.

I do all sorts of things like use curse words, slang words like "gotta," colloquialisms like "y'all." I call myself an oddball.

Example: "Mark makes amazing breakfast potatoes, and I can put together a kick-ass sandwich."

I will say that some rules I will not break, because those rules help create clarity and make the meaning very clear. It's a balance among several elements: powerful impact, clarity, and accessibility.

Proceed with caution.

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