Here’s the thing. Grammar is bullshit and doesn’t matter.
I’m a writer. No, stop nodding. Stop it. Right now. I’m not a writer like you’re a writer. I’m good at it and get paid for what I write. I have immense respect for language. I love language. But language is also a schizophrenic slut who wants you to abuse it. Bad. It wants you to slam it against the chifforobe and make it do things that are cause for shunning in orthodox Amish society. Language is changing every day, everywhere, and the attempt to contain it within a system that was largely designed a fucking century ago is arrogant and elitist in the extreme.
My first blog post back some douche bag on Facebook called me out for poor grammar. Guess which one of us is the professional writer and which one of us is totally for sure absolutely going to start that novel any day now once he finishes outlining it properly? One of the key differences between us is that motherfucker knows the rules of grammar, and I know when to let them go. I only obey the flow of what I’m writing and the impact I want the presentation of those words and information to have as they are read. Impact is what it’s all about.
Sentence fragments. They’re great for that. But I’ll also begin a sentence with a conjunction to achieve a similar effect. I use semi-colons the way the first Okinawan farmer to take up arms against a samurai used his rake and hoe; HOW HE NEEDED TO AT THE TIME.
NOR AM I ABOVE CAPITALIZING AN ENTIRE SENTENCE WHEN I WANT THE ENERGY LEVEL TO RISE OR TO CONVEY OUTRAGED EMPHASIS ALTHOUGH I ADMIT IN THIS SENTENCE THAT IMPACT HAS PROBABLY WANED SOMEWHAT AS IT’S GOTTEN A BIT LENGTHY AND OFF-POINT SORRY ABOUT THAT.
Listen, I love Grammar Girl and you love Grammar Girl and Oprah loves Grammar Girl and that’s awesome and I’ve constructed this run-on sentence for maximum comedic effect. I believe in teaching kids the basic rules of grammar. Not everyone uses words for creative pursuits. There are job applications, loan applications, correspondence, college essays, and a million other functional needs for clarity and confidence in one’s writing. It’s important for reading comprehension. Everyone should learn basic grammar.
Once you’ve got a handle on those basic rules, especially if you’re a creative writer, disregard and change at will.
The same goes for narrative style and structure. It goes double for narrative style and structure. There is at least a precedent for dictating rules to people when it comes to grammar. Telling someone how to construct a story is a fallacy, and you’re a phallus for trying. If anything, we need more experimentation in this area. I’m tired of reading the same tripe in the same style and arrangement of chapters. Even Quentin Tarantino is using and reusing a chapter structure. And once Tarantino rips it off, a good general guideline is to drop it like a hot stone in a Russian bathhouse.
Don’t worry about what’s trendy, what’s popular, or what’s passé in the overstuffed, largely neglected world of fiction. Change tenses midstream for all I fucking care. Flashbacks, flash forwards, prologues, epilogues, first-person narrators, fourth-person narrators. It can all go in a blender and come out in any order you see fit as long as it is serving a purpose for you as the author. If you believe in its function and have a clear vision for its use, someone else probably will, too.
But don’t ever flash sideways. Rules aside, that shit is just retarded.
Here’s a story. I found myself sitting for a panel at a convention on some subject I don’t remember because panels and cons are both useless. This was back when anyone with their name on a couple hundred bound pages impressed me. We all go through such a phase. I’m half-listening, probably staring at some geek girl’s rack, when at the tail-end of a rant by some genre fiction novelist you’ll never hear about I caught, “… it’s like writing in first-person!”
“Whoa, whoa, what’s wrong with first-person?” I piped up, having just written an entire novel largely in monologue form that most of you probably don’t remember.
I proceeded to get verbally gangbanged by the small press mafia who were dumping on the use of first-person narrative, especially those written in the present tense, as a blogger-created trend to be dismissed. It was among the first times I realized most writers have shit for brains… and talent. Who the fuck are these people to even have an opinion? Some frumpy bitch who writes historical romance (read: porn no one wants to buy) and says you have to go to Scotland to write about Scotland yet couldn’t buy a one-way ticket there with the book she ended up not getting published. The mid-list horror superstar of the con whose ass everyone kissed because he was probably the only one scraping a living with his fiction, and then strictly because of a movie option on one of his books continuing to be renewed.
You know who they’re not? Suzanne Collins. She would very much like to hear how first-person present tense narratives don’t work except she’s too busy buying Guam. She doesn’t even like Guam, but she needs some place to store her extra hats. She’s a young lady who wrote a little YA novel in that style that is now beloved by millions and about to be the next hotshit post-Potter movie franchise, which will lead to even more millions digging her disdained, passé style.
It’s a good thing she wasn’t at that con.
Look, it’s 2012 and the world is going to end in about ten minutes. I say no more rules. I say fuck the King’s English, fuck the Fowler brothers, fuck Hart’s Way, fuck The Elements of Style in all its forms. Relegate them to emergency toilet paper where they belong. My teachers were and are the authors I love to read, and the more rules they broke, the more they hooked me with their style.
Find your own, don’t listen to what anybody (especially writers, least of all me) tell you, and write the thing you want future archaeologists to discover when they’re sifting the cultural remains of this burnt-out cinder we call Earth.