Saturday, 27 June 2015

How to Create a Convincing Good Guy – Part 1


There is a lot to cover where protagonists are concerned – probably more so that creating bad guys, so in the first part of this three part series, we’ll take a look at what a protagonist is, what he or she does for a story and the different types.
What is a Protagonist?
The protagonist is the main character, the person whose story you are telling, and is also commonly referred to as the hero or the good guy.  The story will centre on them; so much of it will be from their perspective. Every protagonist will have a problem to solve, and only they can do it (with the help of other characters).  
Every story needs a protagonist – what type they are and how they behave is down to the writer – because without that main character, there is no story to tell. It’s the protagonist’s story. They carry the story.
Are There Different Types of protagonist?
Strangely enough, different types of protagonist do exist. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ where main characters are concerned. While there may be umpteen sub groups for them, the main group consists of the following:-
The Classic Hero – Usually male, the classic hero is handsome and strong, brave and gallant and rescues fair maidens from peril. Generally found in historical saga, romance or fantasy novels, this hero is what every woman wants her man to be.
The Anti-Hero – This one can be male or female, and he or she can epitomise both good and bad traits. Ostensibly they are good people, but they can overstep the mark and do bad things in order to get what they want. They will often flout rules and they don’t do things by the book.
The Tragic Hero – A fatally flawed character, beset by more problems than most, but who garners sympathy from the reader by generally overcoming everything that is thrown at him or her. They tend to be very unlucky. Tragic heroes often die for their cause.
The Modern Hero – The modern hero is a balanced type of all the hero characteristics – determined, likeable, good looking, slightly flawed and not afraid to take risks.
So how do you create a good guy that can shoulder the story, do heroic things, make the reader identify with him or her and also make them likeable, interesting and realistic enough for the reader to actually care what happens to them and want to be involved in the story?
Think of all the facets that make up a real person. There are way too many to list, but you’ll find everyone has a past, a history. Everyone has unique traits and behaviours. Everyone does things differently, we’re built differently, think differently. Everyone acts and reacts differently. Your main character should be no different – someone who is multifaceted and complex.
Ultimately, the people we are drawn to are the people who show the same traits as us, so we instantly find a connection. This is also true with your protagonist. They must connect with the reader in the same way. They should have traits and characteristics that readers can identify with. For instance:-
A) They have flaws and foibles, just like the rest of us. They make mistakes; they make bad or stupid choices. Just like we do. They should never be perfect – no one is.
Don’t be afraid to exploit your main character’s weaknesses – make them vulnerable at every opportunity. This will evoke empathy and sympathy in the reader, thus strengthening that connectivity and immediacy.
B) They want something bad enough to embark on a journey to get it – a fight for justice perhaps. Or a need to right a wrong. Or what about saving someone or something, to defend others? A moral fight always endears a reader, because they will share the same ethical remit.
C) They are compelling and interesting – perhaps determined and strong, or they have a fair moral code. Perhaps they are quirky or contradictory. Maybe they are emotional and warm. Maybe they find courage in the face of danger. Perhaps they are passionate about something that matters to them. These are things we see in ourselves; these things draw us towards them.
D) They have personal issues or problems, just like real people. We all carry emotional baggage. And heroes carry the same baggage, too. It could be anything – maybe they didn’t have a father growing up. Maybe they lost a loved one. Perhaps someone did something bad to them when they were a child.
We all carry burdens from childhood to adulthood. Our main characters do, too. This helps readers connect to them on a deep, emotional level.
The Protagonist Has a Job to Do
Your protagonist is vital to moving the story forward and ensuring it reaches a satisfactory conclusion, which means he or she will have a major objective, a goal or target to achieve, be it love, revenge, survival or happiness etc.
All this means your protagonist must have various motives to act; there must be something that is driving him/her. These motives form part of the plot, the very reason for the story and it’s important that writers understand these motives before they start writing, so time spent outlining out your characters and getting their backstories in place is time well spent.
Get the details right to begin with will save a lot of hassle halfway through the novel when things start to get a little tangled.
In Part 2 we’ll look at the importance of motives to the protagonist and the kind of things that makes a ‘good guy’ good.

Next week: How to Create a Convincing Good Guy – Part 2

 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

How to Create a Bad Guy – Part 3


In the last part of this series, we’ll take a look at the anatomy of a bad guy – all the things that make a bad guy ‘bad’.
The life we’ve lived shapes who we are in the present, so it’s inevitable that incidents in the past will affect how your antagonist sees the world, and how they deal with the problems life throws at them. Just as in real life, some people can be nasty and horrible to others, while others are subversive and shifty – but whoever they are, they will have reasons for their behaviour. And those reasons drive them through the story, they provide character motive.
So what might be those reasons?
It’s Personal
The antagonist has a personal problem with the protagonist, be in in the past or in the present, something that triggers the catalyst of actions that course through the story. Perhaps the protagonist did something to make the antagonist angry, and that rage is exacerbated by the protagonist’s actions.
Secrets and Lies
Antagonists always have plenty to hide, things that could lead to varying consequences if anyone found out; be them secrets, lies, deceit or certain weaknesses that the bad guy doesn’t want the good guy to discover, for fear of being exploited.  No one likes to be seen as weak, after all.
Childhood
Sometimes a child’s upbringing can have a measured effect on their behaviours in adulthood.  That’s not to say that disadvantaged kids become monsters, because the majority don’t. But there are those who will have suffered in childhood, perhaps through neglect or abuse, and if those traumas are not dealt with, then the children sometimes carry those physical and emotional scars into their adulthood where they have to find alternative outlets to let go of those repressed emotions or anger, where certain behaviours develop because of personality and mental disorders, on top of those learned during childhood.
Influences & Experiences
Most people are impressionable. Most people are influenced by a lot of things – mostly positive ones.  But there are occasions where people are exposed to negative influences, which are learned or copied, therefore bad experiences can also have a negative effect on the antagonist.
These are reason enough to shape who they are.
That’s just a few reasons why your bad guy might be bad, but there are also certain traits that bad guys have that writers should take note of, especially from a behavioural point of view.
These traits are what build a bad guy’s anatomy – they are traits that we recognise in real people, since some people can be one or many of those listed. We’ve all come across the spiteful type, the manipulative type, the unbalanced type, the insecure type...These are the things that bad guys are made of.
Universally recognised bad guy traits:-
  • Manipulative or Machiavellian
  • Spiteful, resentful
  • Angry and unable to control themselves
  • Sociopathic or psychopathic
  • Crazy/ mentally unbalanced
  • Unhappy/detached or depressed
  • Under the influence of drugs
  • Manipulated by someone else
  • Egocentric
  • Insecure
  • Determined
  • Evil, plain and simple.
  • Power-hungry
  • Subversive
Bad guys are multifaceted and complex, because of the many characteristics they exhibit. In other words, there isn’t simply one thing that makes that person bad; it’s many things. A combination of these traits makes the person; as does their history and backstory.
Some Caveats to Consider
There are some limitations where bad guys are concerned. Sometimes the bad guys win. It’s a myth that the hero always wins.
There are times when neither the antagonist nor protagonist gets what they want and both characters may end the story empty-handed.
Not all bad guys are bad and not all good guys are good. Writers love shaking things up by reversing the roles, by making bad guys good and good guys bad.
Never make the mistake of turning the antagonist into a caricature bad guy. You’re writing a novel, not a James Bond villain of megalomaniac proportions.
If you decide to kill the bad guy, make sure it’s a satisfactory end for him or her – the reader won’t settle for anything less. The retribution must fit.
Whoever your villain is, he or she needs to be well thought out, complex, well written and just as essential to the story as your hero.

Next week: How to create a convincing good guy.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

How to Create a Bad Guy – Part 2


Part 1 of this series looked at why we have bad guys in our stories and why we need them, so this week we’ll take a look at how you bring your antagonist to life and fully develop the character in order to give them that purpose. This is where things get interesting.
Just like your main character, your bad guy should be well thought out and fully developed before you embark with writing. This is important because although they may not share the same amount of ‘page’ time as your main character, they will still require the same thorough detail.
Spend time characterising. Pay as much attention to him/her as you would the hero. It’s vital that you give credence to the character. There are a lot of aspects that make up a really good antagonist – the kind that the reader will remember long after they’ve finished reading your story, so it’s important to get it right.
The one thing that is noticeable with bad guys is that many writers create their antagonist with the opposite emotional characteristics to their protagonist (this parallelism creates conflict because the very things that make the main character ‘good’ are the things that make the bad guy ‘bad’). That said, your bad guy – by virtue of being bad – should also have flaws, like we all do.  Remember, no character is perfect. Imperfections and flaws are what helps readers identify with your characters; it makes the people in your fictional world as close to reality as possible.
Your antagonist should not only have bad traits, but a few good traits too. Yes, even bad people can be good. This is what helps them establish the connection with the reader – as much as they may want to hate the villain, they will also appreciate his or her better qualities. Bad people are not bad 24 hours of the day.
But to fully realize your antagonist, you need to establish quite a few things first:-
Why is the antagonist challenging the protagonist?
Is it because the bad guy has something the hero has? Is it because the antagonist is jealous and bitter over something? Is it truly personal, perhaps a relative who is hell bent on revenge? Did something happen to them in the past to cause the antagonism? Did the actions of the protagonist somehow cause conflict with the antagonist?
Sometimes it’s a simple as one person – usually the bad guy – hiding something, usually a huge secret, and doing everything in their power to stop the hero from finding out.
Ensure that you establish the kind of challenge and the root cause of the conflict.
What kind of antagonism is it?
There are different types. Is it the underhanded, sly type? Perhaps it’s just intimidation and sometimes aggressive, or maybe it’s the violent or even psychotic type?
Know what type of antagonist you want from the outset and decide just how far he or she is willing to go to get what they want. As writer, you control this.
Some of the best villains have used mind games with the hero rather than physical conflict – psychological thriller and crime genres employ this effectively, simply because being a bad guy isn’t always about wanton killing and blowing stuff up. It’s the fear of what the bad guy can do that is scary for the reader.
Ensure you know the type of bad guy you want before you start writing. This makes it so much easier during the process. You have to establish for the reader why there is a rivalry and a need for the antagonist’s actions and how all this relates to the story. It has to form part of the plot.
What is the antagonist’s ultimate goal?
This is something else to know before you start writing. What are his or her goals? Does he or she want to humiliate or destroy the hero in some way?
Does the antagonist want some sort of revenge? Does he or she want to kill the hero? Does the bad guy want something that the hero has or that he wants to prevent the hero from getting?  Whatever the reason, make this clear to the reader and enforce it throughout the story, through your antagonist’s actions.
The antagonist will not only try to prevent your hero reaching his or her goal by whatever means (which will be part of the overall plot), but he or she must also affect change in what they do or how they act. Perhaps they see the light and want to change as people, or they redeem themselves or become a better person because of the events in the story. Even if you kill off your villain, they should change somehow within the story, just as your hero must also change by the novel’s conclusion.
What’s the antagonist’s background?
Your bad guy needs a background. Just like your protagonist, your antagonist also needs history and backstory, because what he does in the story in the present will most likely have been affected by his or her past.
Learned behaviours and character traits play an integral part of who we are, so your bad guy will be no different. Did he or she have a bad childhood, or maybe a really good one (not all baddies are bad because of their upbringing, this is a stereotype). Did some terrible event occur to colour the antagonist’s views about certain things or certain people?
Remember, any antagonist should be just as complex as your protagonist.
Some other things to consider is that bad guys tend to act in certain ways or exhibit certain behaviours to cause conflict, problems, crises, enflame situations, and generally cause trouble.
Effective bad guys do the following at every opportunity:-

  • Undermine the main character at every chance that arises
  • Deliberately create conflict between others, such as friends or family members
  • Physically, psychologically and emotionally threaten or attack the main character
  • Take something from the main character – be it an object of significance or a person, such as a family member
  • Intimidate and make threats of varying degrees or play mind games
  • Use underhanded or manipulative means to get at the main character
  • Betray or humiliate the good guy in some way, particularly if in the presence of others.

Escalate their behaviour
Think of your antagonist’s actions on a simple line graph. Your bad guy’s actions will be low-key to begin with, but as the story unfolds and develops, the intensity of his or her actions will start to escalate, so the line on the graph starts to climb higher and higher to a pinnacle – the final conflict in your story.
Study other books and you will notice this trend of behaviour escalation. This happens because the bad guy becomes more frustrated and angry and desperate as the story nears conclusion. This is because the hero has overcome everything the bad guy has thrown at him thus far. Things will escalate to the final showdown.
Lastly, never maker your antagonist a plot device. Instead, they should be integral to the story and should always be connected to your main character.
In the final part we’ll take a look at the anatomy of the bad guy.
Next week: How to create a bad guy - Part 3

Saturday, 6 June 2015

How to Create a Bad Guy – Part 1


When we write, generally the very first thing we think of is our main character, i.e. the protagonist - or more commonly known as the ‘good guy’. What we don’t always have in mind at that stage is a ‘bad guy’, the antagonist. That’s because we naturally focus on our main character first, since that is whose story we are telling, so when it comes to creating a bad guy, some writers struggle with the concept.
In this special three part series, we’ll take a look at how to create an antagonist and explore why we need them in our stories. There is a lot of ground to cover on this subject, so for Part1, let’s start with the obvious.
Why do we have antagonists?
The fundamental reason we have antagonists is to create conflict. They provide this conflict because this is the one element that drives every story. A story without an antagonist or much conflict isn’t much of a story at all.
Whoever your bad guy is, he or she will want to prevent the hero from achieving his or her goal (another driving force of any story). Antagonists are there to antagonise the main character at every turn, thus providing plenty of conflict, tension and emotion, hence the name ‘antagonist’.
The bad guy forms much of, or is part of, the many obstacles and challenges that your main character will face throughout the story. This is a great catalyst for all sorts of conflict, particularly when coupled with the setting and plot. The fact is, both characters want something and it is what they do to achieve what they want that fuels the fire of the story, so…just imagine your story without an antagonist.
Where is it going and what it will achieve if nothing and no one stands in your protagonist’s way?
What is their purpose?
The bad guy is a contrary foil who works against your protagonist on many levels, determined to prevent the protagonist from reaching his or her goal, while at the same time maintaining his/her own aims. He or she wants to succeed…but so does the protagonist. And there lies a nice little melting post of conflict.
The antagonist is there to thwart and oppose the protagonist throughout the story; therefore they are primed for confrontation, hostility and conflict, but by this very nature, it makes both characters compelling to the reader.
Of course, the other important reason we have them is to help drive the story forward. If you didn’t have an antagonist to cause problems for your hero, then just how much of a story would you have?
In truth, you wouldn’t have much to work with and your hero wouldn’t have a lot to do.
So what makes a great bad guy?
When we think of some of the best antagonists in fiction, we think of novels such as Misery’s Annie Wilkes or The Silence of the Lambs and the indomitable Hannibal Lecter. Or what about Long John Silver in Treasure Island? Or what about Voldemort from the Harry Potter books?  We remember these baddies, long after we’ve read the books. Why?
We remember them because they’re well written, they are so compelling and terrifying at the same time. They make us love to hate them.
But the thing about antagonists is that they don’t have to be stereotypically ‘evil’ for readers to remember them. Bad guys are bad because they are always trying to thwart your main character from achieving his or her goal and always causing conflict and not necessarily because they are ‘evil’. No one is born evil. People develop in so many different ways that we are either considered a ‘good’ person or a ‘bad’ person by our behaviours and actions throughout life.
Bad guys don’t have to be the stereotypical James Bond-style megalomaniac who wants to take over the world, either. This kind of bad guy is almost a caricature. In truth, a bad guy can be anyone. It could be the guy in the bookstore. Your next door neighbour. The girl who serves you coffee. Your boss.
A bad guy doesn’t have to be overt in what he or she does. Sometimes the best bad guys just simply get under the main character’s skin so imperceptibly that they don’t become aware of it until a crucial moment in the story. Not only that, but they will get under your reader’s skin too. Hannibal Lector is this kind of ‘bad’ guy. He’s subtle yet chilling.
We all know that readers love to root for the hero. But they also love to hate the bad guy.
Protagonist v Antagonist Relationship
The key word here is opposition.
A relationship in opposition must exist for any story, with protagonist and antagonist pitted against each other, on opposing sides, but paradoxically, they must also be inextricably linked through the story arc and its themes.
In truth, they need each other, so it’s important that writers focus on what sort of people these characters are. Their paths will cross, or may have already crossed, they usually share the same needs or motivations, they will both have histories and backstory, they both to want to succeed, and more importantly, they will have changed as people (for better or worse) towards the end of the story.
Both characters drive the story forward. Both rely on each other. Both cannot evolve without each other.
Theirs is the most important relationship in your story. And getting them just right is the key thing to creating memorable, effective, but opposing characters.
In Part 2 we’ll look at what goes into creating an effective bad guy, one that will be unforgettable and compelling, multidimensional and very real for your reader.

Next week:  How to Create a Bad Guy – Part 2

Saturday, 30 May 2015

How to Write the Passage of Time


Writers have sometimes struggled with the concept of time in fiction and how best to portray it, because as much as writers would love to, they can’t write about every minute of every day in a character’s life within a story. Somewhere between the action and the narrative the writer needs to show the reader that time has moved forward – be it hours, a day, a month or even years. The story should have time markers, or references, to indicate to the reader that time has passed from one moment to the next.
Why do we have them?
We use time references to help with the timing of certain events within the story so that the reader doesn’t become confused to when those events occur. If you don’t indicate the timing, the story would just go on and on without natural breaks between key events and the reader won’t always know that the events happen hours, days or even weeks apart. Not unless you tell them.
By giving time references to the day, night, hour, month or season etc, you can keep the reader connected to the story arc. Fiction writing isn’t just about telling a story, it’s about clarity and consistency.
With the exception of the story taking place in one day, every story must move forward in a chronological and natural way, which means bypassing a lot of time which is unimportant to the plot, so writers make use of a few techniques to ensure that the story still runs smoothly, even with the natural time breaks.
So how do writers achieve this? Is there an effective way to show the passage of time without making the story jumpy or confusing the reader?
Scene Breaks
One of the easiest ways to do this is to use simple scene breaks. These allow the writer to finish one scene and move the story ahead to another scene and another time in the story, which may be hours or a few days or so. Readers are not stupid – they will instinctively know that with a new scene time has moved on if the writer has hinted in the preceding scene, for example:
John rubbed his eyes and slumped down into the chair. ‘It’s getting late. Let’s look at it fresh in the morning.’
(Scene break)
A streak of sunlight poked through the broken shutters as John made a coffee strong enough to wake his senses...
It’s clear that the new scene smoothly continues on the preceding scene, without the need for the writer to describe the character going to bed, falling asleep and then waking up in the morning. The character clearly suggests the passage of time, so the reader will know the next scene will be the next morning. This is a practical and effective time marker.
The best way to show these kinds of scene breaks is to let the reader know beforehand.
From Within the Scene
Writing the passage of time within a scene is another effective way to show time has passed, all in a sentence or two and without the need to create a new scene, for example:
Jason finished the plan, just as he had promised, and he left the office earlier than usual. Three hours later, after the rain-beaten drive out of the city, he pulled up outside the cottage.
Here the emphasis is on the time marker – it clearly tells the reader three hours have passed since Jason left the office and it then neatly skips ahead to the moment he appears at the cottage, all within the same scene and all done seamlessly. It’s an easy effective way to move ahead without lots of unnecessary, boring description.
Using New Chapters
Like scene breaks, beginning a new chapter is another easy alternative to move forward in time – these are generally used for longer time spans, usually days or weeks etc.
Again, writers usually leave a marker in the preceding chapter, a hint that time will move ahead, then when the new chapter begins, the reader will understand that hours, days or weeks, whatever the case may be, has passed.
Using Symbols
A lot of writers use symbols to show the passage of time – a clock, for example, is one of the most used symbols. This is really simple a reference marker. Other writers actually show the time in the narrative, especially if it is important to the plot, for example: 
7.15 am. The time seemed to slow in his mind, as though all around him had become a sluggish blur, but in reality he knew how important every second had become. And when he looked at the time again, it was 7.21am. Two minutes from the inevitable...
Here, the narrative shows the time because it’s important to the central plot, almost like a countdown. Both reader and character knows it’s a countdown to something, and that the story is being told in minutes and hours, not days or weeks.
In truth, the passage of time is not actually hard to write. Writers only say it’s hard because they haven’t been shown how to effectively do it. Once you know how, and with all the different ways at hand, well, time is at your disposal.
Remember to be clear and consistent and you can’t go wrong.
Next week: How to create a bad guy

 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Some Grammar Rules Can Be Broken – Part 2


Continuing our look at grammar rules and which can be bent and, on occasion, broken, we’ll look at a few more ‘rules’ that writers do not have to stick too rigidly or are now accepted as the norm in fiction writing.
Using Slang
Slang is something we all use, it’s part of everyday life, so it’s inevitable that writers want to add some realism to their writing by using it, which is fine, if you want to set the tone, but it’s also one of those things that shouldn’t be overdone. Snippets of slang here and there enrich the story, but too much can prove distracting for the reader and they will soon tire of it.
Also, using slang is rather like using salt in cooking. Just enough gives flavour. Too much and you spoil your food. The same is true with any story.
We tend to use slang within dialogue between characters, but it can, in moderation, be used within the narrative, for instance words such as ‘badass’, ‘fit’, ‘hottie’ or ‘selfie’.
Again, it all boils down how writers use slang and how much of it they use.  By all means bring colour to the narrative, but don’t spoil it.
Numbering Protocol
Some rules suggest that numbers less than 10 or 20 are spelled out. The reason for this is so that numbers can easily be read. Using single numbers such as 1 or 5 might not stand out as well as they should, hence the need to spell them. This is actually a good, logical ‘rule’, and many writers actually follow it because it makes sense to do it. That said, plenty of writers prefer to use numerals instead.
There is no real hard and fast rule on this, other than it being a style issue, so whatever you choose - numerals or spelling out the numbers - just make sure you are consistent. If you start with numerals, then stick with numerals throughout, etc. Clarity is just as important as consistency.
Comma Use
Commas are very much the subject of debate because it harks back to the days of education and that, where fiction is concerned, commas should be used as independent clauses, to separate lists or other elements, to use before a conjunction such as ‘but’, or to separate parenthetical elements, however, writing has evolved and most, if not all, writers use the comma as a specific pause within a sentence, to add effect.
Commas can help improve longer sentences without them appearing too fragmented, they bring clarity and prevent confusion. They also prevent the reader tipping over cumbersome sentences. Commas are a writer’s best friend, if used correctly, so make sure you know how to use them effectively.
Pronoun-Subject Agreement
We’ve all been taught that using ‘they’ is wrong when there is no gender to refer to, for instance ‘Once the character is fully formed, they will write themselves.’ Instead we usually use an assumed gender, mostly ‘he’, but this is very antiquated and harks back to the assumption that men garner more importance. But this is the twenty-first century and women have a place is the world and don’t like being generalised as a ‘he’, when ‘he or she’ is quite acceptable.
Some purists argue that using he/she or him/her is unwieldy, when in fact it’s nothing of the sort. If you wish to use he/she, then do so. Otherwise, many people refer to the pronoun ‘they’, which has now gained acceptance and is no longer grammatically incorrect.
Not everything you’ve learned in school about writing is meaningful or useful.
Fiction writing is an ever-evolving art form. Fads will come and go and things may change over time. What is not accepted now may be acceptable in a few years. The main thing to remember is that while we can break some of these ‘rules’, we shouldn’t overuse them. Also, there are some grammar ‘rules’ that are in place for a very good reason – they create better writing and they create clarity, and that’s what we should all aim for.

Next week: How to Write the Passage of Time

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Some Grammar Rules Can Be Broken – Part 1


It’s a contradiction in terms because as writers, we spend much of our time abiding by certain ‘rules’ where writing is concerned, but there is a very good reason why such rules and guidelines exist – to make us better writers.
That said, some rules can be bent and some can, on occasion, be broken.  Some ‘rules’ are now considered old fashioned because of the ever-changing way fiction is written, but writers should consider the context of their work before going ahead and breaking all sorts of guidelines – for instance, is the work to be self-published or will it go to agents and publishers for the traditional publishing route?
Self-published novels tend to ignore every rule and the end result is an absolute mess, because there are no quality controls in place and the author hasn’t taken the time to learn about what they’re doing. Traditionally published work, by contrast, has to be vetted and scrutinised by editors, and so some rules and guidelines are important.
You may have heard a lot about ‘rules’, but in essence these rules are not set in stone. In truth, they are the universally accepted standards for writing, which is why we advocate writers stick to them while they learn their craft. When you become published and successful, you can break as many rules as you please. Until then, it’s better to stay with what works, and has been shown to work, since the modern publishing age.
So, which conventions can you safely break without compromising or weakening your writing? There are a few to choose from, but let’s consider the most common ones:
Don’t use Contractions
No one really pays attention to this one, simply because it’s prevalent in every fictional work. We all use contractions – ‘don’t’ instead of ‘do not’ or ‘couldn’t’, instead of ‘could not’. Purists don’t like them because it makes the writing sound casual, and there are some authors who don’t use them, but in essence it’s more of a style thing.
If you want to use contractions, use them. If you don’t like them, don’t use them. Use what is comfortable for you, but make sure you are consistent, whatever you choose.
Never Start a Sentence with a Conjunction
Conjunctions (and, or, but, so, yet, because etc.) are generally used to join two parts of a sentence, for example, ‘John looked out of the window, but the fog obscured his view’’.
There are plenty of authors who start a sentence with a conjunction, which contravenes the general grammar rules you learned in school.
But the thing with conjunctions is that they work well, if used correctly. Notice I started this paragraph with a conjunction?  I did so to emphasise the importance of the point, which is why writers use them this way. They can add emphasis, depth, gravitas or drama, depending upon the way you use them, for example:
And now it was time to die.
But everything had changed. Everything.
If you want to use a conjunction, make sure you do so to get the best effect from your writing.  A word of caution – use them wisely. Like everything in writing, don’t overuse them.
Don’t End a Sentence with a Preposition
A preposition usually comes before a noun or pronoun to show its relationship to another word within the sentence and usually consist of words such as ‘in, though, on, at, above, near, of, for’. The word preposition describes itself: pre (before) position.
The book is on the table.
The clouds are above the mountain.
The apple is in the trash.
These examples show where the book is, where the clouds are, where the apple is. These are considered correct preposition uses.
Every now and then, however, writers end up placing prepositions at the end of sentences, for example:
This is the reason we write for.
This is the subject I’m interested in.
The name he was known by.
These examples can actually be made stronger by changing the sentence structure and thus improving them:
This is the reason we write.
This is the subject that interests me.
The name for which he was known.
There are times, however, when prepositions are required and the sentence is better with them, so understandably this is a subject of debate. The point is, it’s another one of those grammar rules you probably learned at school, but it’s one that should be tackled with some thought. If the sentence cannot work without the preposition, then use it. If it can be improved by removing it and re-writing the sentence, then do so, but don’t rely on them too much. One good example is William Shakespeare:
We are such stuff as dreams are made on.
It may not be truly grammatically correct, but the effect and emphasis that he wanted works.
Avoid Sentence Fragments.
A sentence fragment is not a complete sentence. If you do a grammar check with Word, you will notice that it will flag up what it thinks are incomplete sentences. But the thing with fragments sentences is that not all of them are mistakes. Some are deliberate and are intended for style and voice, for example:
She knew it was time. Like now.
The cold crept over him. Predatory. Hungry.
She remembered many summers. Such as those of her childhood.
For writers, it’s all about choice and the intended meaning, so if it enhances the narrative, use them. If they don’t add anything to the narrative, then don’t use them and reconstruct the sentences to make them better.
Avoid One-Sentence Paragraphs
This is another one that is taught to kids, but really should be ignored.
A paragraph can, essentially, be any length you want it to be. It can be one word or a hundred words. As long as the point of it is understood by the reader, then a one sentence paragraph is as good as any other.
In Part 2 we’ll look at more grammar ‘rules’ that can be bent and broken in order to create better, more emphatic narrative.
Next week: Some Grammar Rules Can Be Broken – Part 2