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.
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.
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.
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.
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