Look, it’s actually Wednesday and I’m posting “Writing Quote Wednesday.” Yay me!
Today’s quote is from Elmore Leonard:
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”
I chose this quote because one of the many things that can hold me back as a writer is the need to make the English correct all the time.
An unopened door
Until I started taking classes and working on my novels, I had never really thought about playing with the conventions of language. Playing with them so much that the rules go out the window. Who would have thought you could write a ONE-word sentence.
And, the concept of beginning a sentence with AND was so foreign to me I couldn’t conceive of a world where it was allowed.
Repetition … repetition. Ah repetition. Who knew it was possible to take the same word and repeat it in quick succession for emphasis, especially when the character is thinking.
These new ideas opened doors for me I had never known existed.
Now that I know a writer can change whichever rules he or she wants, I read books in a different way. I look and listen for the cadence of the sentences. Not just the word choices themselves, but the use of language itself add to meaning and tone. The book I’m reading right now (Chuck Wendig’s latest Star Wars tale) uses quick abrupt sentences to convey a sense of immediacy. The characters are confronting life and death battles and decisions. His choices in sentence construction heighten that feeling of impending doom. The book I just finished, and have yet to write about, (T. Greenwood’s latest), is almost poetic. Her word choices and language use paint a picture of the world.
If a true grammarian analyzed either of these novels he or she would conclude that the rules of the English language are not being used. Technically speaking the conventions of language are being ignored. Wholesale. (See how I added that single word sentence for emphasis.)
My only rule
As long as the reader can understand what is being conveyed, then it’s my belief that the sentence is okay. Now …. I will admit that there are a lot of awkward sentences out there in dire need of revision. Awkward is the enemy of evocative.
A reader should not have to work at deciphering a sentence; rather the words and language should meld together, creating an experience the reader is unwilling to end. (How’s that for profound. P.s. you can quote me on that one.)
Anyone else have similar feelings? What did you notice about an author’s use of language? And, I’d love to know if this conversation is the same in another language like French or Italian. Do French or Italian authors play with language conventions like English writing authors do?
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