Do you ever wonder why certain books, plays and poetry are still taught in school? I have a theory. The classics were written by men and women who perfected their craft. They didn’t rest on laurels; instead they invested time in making the next work better.
Students groan when they open Julius Caesar but the story is still worth telling. The characters have the same concerns as men and women today. We have issues with government and power grabbing.
Mark Twain revealed a dark time in American history. TOM SAWYER AND HUCKLEBERRY FINN did not necessarily defend slavery. The stories revealed a truth that can bring about change. Tom and Huck are so right as boys in the late 1800’s. I’ve met a few shysters who could pull off the whitewashing of the fence with a wink and a smile.
JANE EYRE depicts the times when men ruled and women held a second class status. But it also shows the growth of a young woman beyond the customary role to become a strong and faithful lady of means.
Then there are new classics. I truly believe the Harry Potters series will stand the test of time. After all daring deeds and heroic action will always be popular. And like the previously noted volumes, the Potter books will be part of my library. As will Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, Craig Johnson’s LONGMIRE stories, and Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunters.
These authors and others like them found the formula for success. They developed memorable characters, had good stories and plots. They employed the basis of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Above all, they wrote for the reader and not just for themselves.
What books are in your library? Is there a mixture of old and new? Are the covers pristine or worn? Are there some volumes that are dog-eared and faded from handling? I do hope your library is just like mine. I hope you have a mixture of everything and you read and reread your old favorites and acquire new favorites. After all, good writing never goes out of style.
Style is the quality that makes your writing easy to understand and pleasant to read. Style is different from punctuation and grammar which rarely factor in a writer’s style because they are generally standardized. For example, you could write a grammatically correct piece of work using large amounts of passive verbs with few active verbs and have poor style.
Good writing style is developed with practice. The more you write the better your style gets. Here are a few helpful suggestions to work on:
Save the most interesting or important words for the end of the sentence.
Use parallel structure in your writing. In other words, use consistency in sentence structure.
Avoid echoes. This is a repetition of a word multiple times in a sentence or paragraph.
As you write and revise, your own personal style will develop over time.
Okay, class, it’s time to talk about grammar. Stop groaning. Grammar is very important to a story. Yes, I know it’s boring and I know there are way too many rules for it to be reasonable. However, we’re going to take a new approach.
The accepted guidelines for creative writing today can be found in the Chicago Manual of Style, which is a gigantic tome and anyone who has memorized the whole book deserves a giant pat on the back. But proper punctuation and noun/verb usage is not necessarily what our lesson is about today.
Today we’re going to talk about creative grammar. Now this is not the license to throw away all the rules in the name of art. In fact, knowing what the rules are is very important to this lesson, and I’m going to add a new rule that will make punctuation become as important to your story as your characters and plot. Ready?
IT’S OKAY TO BREAK THE RULE IF YOU KNOW WHAT THE RULE IS AND WHY YOU NEED TO BREAK IT.
I have read stories where the punctuation and grammar is so perfect that the whole thing is very stiff and formal and unfriendly – and not a lot of fun to read. On the other hand, I have read a few stories where the author uses grammar and punctuation, fonts, italics, all-caps, and bolds almost as characters in the story. These authors have achieved something so mouthwatering that a magic spell is woven that forces the reader to keep reading until they see the words “The End.”
Become friends with grammar and punctuation and let it breathe life into your stories. Don’t be afraid to experiment with its uses—or lack of (as long as you know why)—and watch your story develop a beating heart and start to live.
Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.