Vicki Hinze © 2003-2011
How come when I read books, I see long sentences and sentences that begin with “And” when I’m told not to do either? What’s the rule for sentences?
The truth is, there are no rules for writing. There are suggestions and recommendations and methods and means that many experts cite as rules, but there truly are no rules.
We’ve had beloved works written wherein sentences have no punctuation. None whatsoever. We’ve had works written where the entire piece was one sentence that went on for pages and pages. We’ve had works where every sentence began with the word “and.”
What we writers learn from this is that for every rule cited, there is a published work somewhere that breaches that rule.
Remember that writing is an art as well as a craft. The artistic portion is the part of writing where those authors of the works mentioned above, chose to write the specific work breaking the established rule, if you will, for a purpose. A purpose the author felt best served the work. In other words, the expected “norm” was violated because violating it in some way enhanced the author’s point. The author felt that taking this unorthodox approach added something significant to the work s/he couldn’t achieve without it.
An important thing to remember here: the writer didn’t break the rule out of ignorance. S/he broke the rule for a purpose. Because in her/his opinion doing so best served the story.
Often, exceptions to the rule are done under the artistic side of writing. But those reasons can come under the craft side of writing as well. For example, pacing is affected by sentence length. The longer, more flowing, the sentence is, the slower the pacing.
When our characters are in intense situations, they think in short spurts, in fragments. They focus on the intense situation–nothing else. The author must convey that tenseness, that sense of urgency. To do so, the author uses snips of sentences. Fragments. No frills. No fluff. Sharp verbs. Vivid images. Jerky body language. Harsh dialogue.
Implementing these methods gives the illusion of tension and immediacy. Urgency. The reader reads these sentences faster, due to their sparse construction, and that too creates an emotional sense of urgency in the reader.
Conversely, when our characters are in reflective, relaxed situations, they think in long, flowing sentences. Sentences that often draw heavily on sensory perceptions so that the images, tastes, sounds, smells, and tactile responses of the character convey the tone and relaxed atmosphere of the setting and of the character’s mood.
Long flowing sentences, by nature of their construction, relax the reader. Here you’ll find descriptions that are rich and lush, expansive. This construction slows the pacing down.
Rhythm is another craft reason that the author occasionally breaks the cited rules. This is a little more nebulous reason that encroaches onto the artistic aspect of writing as well. The reason is because, when we write, and later edit, we read with our artistic antenna tuned to our inner ear. That inner ear tells the writer when a sentence “sounds” tinny, when it interrupts the flow, when it breaks the fictional dream and reminds the reader that s/he is reading and not living the events occurring on the page.
Often, for rhythm, I’ll start a sentence with “and.” Now, I learned in English classes in high school and in college that you never do that. It’s poor form. It’s tacky writing. But creative writing, in my humble opinion, isn’t about being technically correct, or having perfect form. It’s about telling a story. And if I can better tell that story, without interruption, without breaking the dream for the reader by inserting “and” at the beginning of a sentence–serving that purpose–then I’ll do it every time. In that situation, breaking the rule serves a higher purpose. Whether that purpose is for unity, flow, clarity, or rhythm, it’s worthy.
Of greatest importance to the writer on this topic: Understanding the relationship between art and craft in writing. Ultimately, the writer should know the rules but be willing to break them if breaking them best serves the story. That is the writer’s most sacred responsibility: to best serve the story.*