bits and pieces

I received one rejection this week. It was from PANK, and it was for my submission of “The Death of Superman.” This was the magazine that had specified a theme: parenting. I had said in an earlier post that I was approaching their theme from the opposite direction, in this case the son now taking care of his father. I realized it was a long shot, but I’m glad I tried. And I have the story out to four other publications currently.


My story that I lamented last week as reaching only 227 words is now at 1,707 words, and I think it’s about finished. I still have insights about it daily, mostly to do with word choice, but in terms of substance, I think it is all there and about in “final” form. I think next week I’ll send it to a couple of readers and see what they think.


And if you can stomach any more of my babbling about these Fathers and Sons stories, I’m marveling at how they are evolving in my mind. I’m seeing parallels and contrasts in the stories that are sensible, even integral, yet they are things I was never consciously aware of. All kinds of foreshadowing and fulfillment ideas are flooding in.

I’ve written here before that I sometimes feel as though the stories exist “out there” and that I am given the privilege of writing them down if I will listen carefully (and write quickly). I know that’s rubbish, but it sure feels like true right now.


Below is the text of a post I wrote three years ago and never put online. I don’t recall if I considered it unfinished or if I was worried about too many posts lamenting what I consider a debilitating devotion to the “rules” of grammar by too many creative writers. Anyway, here it is:

I believe that as creative writers we have the privilege and perhaps even the obligation to break the grammar and usage (and even spelling) rules if that will serve the needs of our writing and the glorious evolution of our language. I believe that effective communication with our reader is the only rule we need to serve, and by “effective communication” I don’t necessarily mean “easy communication.”

I don’t believe (as many assert) that one must know the proper rules of grammar before one dares to break them. I think that one can accumulate an informal and perhaps even subconscious understanding of the basic devices of communication through reading and conversation and then happily write or speak a persuasive or memorable sentence even if the subject and verb don’t agree or a participle dangles (and perhaps because of it). We each of us know wise and capable people who have never spent a day in college, and I think the same can be true of creative writers. They can write articulate fiction yet not know the formal rules of grammar.

Grammar, I think, has its uses and its limitations. If we are teaching college students basic composition (as I did for years), then maybe Strunk & White is a useful tool. The fact is that most of those students will never be creative writers (and how much of that might we attribute to the debilitating effects of rule books like Strunk & White?), so a basic grasp of the shared rules of communication is important for them to get on in society. And if we are writing business reports or operation guides (as I also did for years), we need to be succinct, precise, and clear. But we are not writers of term papers or technical manuals; we are creative writers. We should be crafting magnificent sentences and compelling word images. We should be rising above the everyday with our prose.

I think that for those who want to write fiction, more attention needs to be paid to the rules of rhetoric than the rules of grammar. I wonder how many of those bloggers who make their didactic posts about the importance of grammar even know what a zeugma is. Do they ever consider the value of a chiasmus when they want to stress the balance or parallelism of some important points in their tale? Maybe not, but they might have some intuitive sense of such things (and the dozens of other identified rhetorical devices) because they have read and internalized good writing. And if they don’t have a sense of such things, I think their craft would be better served by studying the rules of rhetoric than the rules of grammar.

And then it will be time to break those rules too.

Explore posts in the same categories: Rants and ruminations

2 Comments on “bits and pieces”

  1. Grammar. As a dyslexic, I like and hate it. It helped me keep things vaguely together, but at the same time, it was hard to master. The rote crap, the memories of being called on before a class that already picked on me for a myriad other reasons being given more because I hadn’t the slightest idea of how to diagram a sentence. I make my living with words, and I still can’t find the subject of a sentence.

    I used to edit airplane manuals. And sure, it’s nice to have a style to shoot for and refer to. But in every editing job I’ve had, I’ve seen that the rules are really guidelines; there are always exceptions. So while other fretted over tiny details that mattered, I was more concerned with making sure the content that was being written kept planes in the air.

    I have my little sticking points…most of us do. But most of the things that bother me about language aren’t grammar, but the overuse of buzzwords and phrases. But even there, words that bother me, I can see something more — sometimes even see how clever the very thing that bothers me is. Impact. Hate the overuse of impact. “I want to impact homeless children.” I heard that once, and it made me think of somebody wandering the streets, punching homeless children in the face.

    But at the same time, it’s a word that’s become a solution: it’s become interchangeable for effect and affect. I know there are some who would say, “Just remember the rule!” but it’s also kind of neat to be at a point in time where we’re seeing people use a word to replace a series of rules that are there just to be there.

    And I say that as somebody who isn’t found of the overuse of impact.

    If the point is made and communication is done, I’m good!

  2. kimmi Says:

    ” I know that’s rubbish”.
    Rubbish! where else would stories come from, and how else would we be able to write them? you think Dickens (f”rinstance) just made that stuff up?
    plus also, correct (some persons mite say proper) grammar are whatever make you’re point across (clear enuf) to yore readers which point May or might not be needing more than only just mere words but also some times your going too make those words a picture behind their selfs. I’m just sayin’.
    that was way xtreme, of course but most of it has prolly xperienced real life, somewhere, sometime. how else would it have been there for me to document?

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