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Writing rule-breaking: Editor's Notes #368
June 29, 2022

A classic is classic not because it conforms to certain structural rules, or fits certain definitions (of which its author had quite probably never heard).
It is classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness.

—Edith Wharton

In this issue:

1. Writing rule-breaking
2. Tickled my funny bone
3. Interesting Web site
4. Writing prompt

1.Writing rule-breaking
Communication depends on commonly accepted "rules." Break too many of those rules, and communication breaks down. For example, hke odenioe 6 djdsdnd probably doesn’t mean anything to you because it doesn’t follow rules you and I agree on.

The rules are the science of writing, and they are important. Writing is also an art, and sometimes broken rules communicate in a way that rule-bound writing does not. Recently I’ve read two books that illustrate the point.

In The Promise, Damon Galut breaks so many rules I can’t even list them all, but here is a sample of what he does: He switches points of view even within a sentence. He switches between inner and outer dialogue without any standard marker to let you know where you are. He intrudes with moral pronouncements without offending the reader. With all of that, he does not accidentally confuse the reader, and he produced a book that is almost impossible to put down.

Milkman by Anna Burns often tells a story backwards, staring with the ending, then circling back to the middle or maybe the beginning, going forward for a bit before leaving an episode to simmer until it suddenly appears inside another story where it may finally link up to the ending the reader read first. Paragraphs, and sometimes sentences, go on for pages, not following regular rules of grammar, but never letting the reader lose the thread. These stylistic oddities build a relentless sense of tension, appropriate because the story is set in an unnamed 1970s city that is possibly Belfast. No one, not even a family member, can just come out and say things plainly because anyone, even those closest, could be an enemy.

Both books won the Booker prize, possibly the most prestigious prize in English literature, and I consider both brilliant.

In both cases, the unique literary rule-breaking is part of what raises these books into the stratosphere.

These are not debut novels. The authors know and can use all the writerly conventions. They are so skillful with the rules that they can twist them or abandon them to make statements beyond the reach of rule-bound writing. As I read these books, I was never led astray or frustrated. Instead, I was swept away and forced to look at people and situations in a completely new light.

Breaking the rules successfully usually requires a knowledge of the rules and skill in working inside them. When a writer breaks rules intentionally, the effect can be stunning in the best way possible.

2.Tickled my funny bone
"I have a split personality," said Tom, being Frank.

3. Interesting Web site
This link opens to a podcast and an article that are not identical. I preferred the article, but if you are a podcast person, by all means, listen to this writer.

4. Writing prompt
Constraint and freedom are often seen as opposites, but there is an argument to be made that there is freedom in constraint. Write a response to the previous sentence. I’d love to read your thoughts.

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