Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Rules, Rules and More Rules

As with any writing forum when a question of “rules” breaks out, you’ll generally end up with several stock responses from Random Internet Guy who gives the canard: “The only rule is there are no rules.”

Yeah, man, it’s like, why live your life by a structure that’s only designed to keep you down?  The workers control the means of production, man.  It’s the corporations, dude, Big Pharma and the Pentaverate who put a chemical into KFC chicken and make you crave it fortnightly!

But even the Dude will abide.

You need to know the rules because that’s what writing is.  Writing is a means of communication from me to you (and you and also you).  Rules put us all on the same page and clarify the communication so we can understand what the hell you’re on about!  You certainly can break the rules—once you know them.  This is why people ask questions about the rules.  They’re looking for knowledge and structure so they can make a decision about how to use them.  Breaking the rules willfully is an act of artistic independence. Breaking the rules ignorantly is, well, an act of ignorance.  It can even make you look silly and foolish.  If you know the rules, then you can decide which rules are important to you, and which ones you’re going to kick to the curb.

Writers.  Aren't we all?
To this end, I offer you the advice of buying and keeping on the shelf at least one style manual.  Depending on what you’re writing, either The Chicago Manual of Style (currently, the 16th edition) or The Associated Press Stylebook (currently AP 2015) for their formatting guidelines.  Mostly The Chicago Manual is for fiction writers, and AP is for magazines and newspapers (online or print).

There aren’t heaps of difference between the two, and there’s plenty of crossover, so if you’re working in both areas, you don’t necessarily have to change your style.  The point is to be consistent in your writing, which is the key to communication.  If a reader knows what you mean by a certain phrase, acronym, or abbreviation, then it doesn’t necessarily need to be italicized with a proper parenthetical citation.  If an editor comes back with a contradiction to a particular style book—so what?  That’s likely the publisher’s particular version of that style, and it doesn’t impact your work to adhere.

Lack of consistency looks lazy, unprofessional and can cost you a gig.  An author who can show strong consistency and adherence to a style—yes, even breaking the rules deliberately—shows value in the craft and discipline.  

Crush that writing, see it driven before you and hear the lamentations of its grammar!

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