For Sunday, February 7, 2016:
“Once we rid ourselves of traditional thinking we can get on with creating the future.”
No, this isn’t intended to be political – though it does come the day after the most recent Republican candidates’ debate here in the U. S., which no doubt influenced my thoughts. No, this is about writing.
As an editor of words, I confess I lean to the traditional when it comes to many of the ‘rules.’ As a writer raised on traditional and classic writing, however, I like to embrace what used to be the future for me. Don’t get me wrong: I still love and soak up the classics whenever possible, but there’s a freedom that comes when we allow ourselves to relax that style as we write. If it’s appropriate.
For instance, we can now begin sentences with ‘And’ and ‘But.’ And ‘Either/Or.’ We can have incomplete sentences. It’s how we talk, after all, and our writing reflects – should reflect – us as a people and for our readers, whether it takes place in the here-and-now of our informal speech or in the future or in the past.
Even my editor’s hat is tilted a little to the future, though. Anyone who’s worked with me knows how I feel about semi-colons and colons — they do not belong in fiction writing — and they can blame my writing mentor for my conversion. Her reasoning makes perfect sense to me: we can’t see punctuation when we have conversations with others, and since so much of fiction is built on dialogue, colons and semi-colons can’t be distinguished from commas, so why have them?
I think this is where incomplete sentences help – like the Japanese use particular words for punctuation in haiku, we can break a traditional style rule or two to use partial sentences to accomplish the same thing: a short pause or a longer pause.
But – and this is a big ‘but’ – academic papers, theses, and dissertations are different. That’s when my editor’s hat sits squarely on the heads and shoulders of the traditionalists. It’s been a few years since I’ve had to edit such academic work, though, so I’m not too worried. And I think we still need to do such things as vary the length of our sentences and paragraphs.
The one thing that should always be uppermost in our work, whether we prefer the traditional or the future? Our readers. So our style needs to focus on what will make easy reading for them.
[Ed: But please, no semi-colons. Unless you’re writing a thesis. They’re really not needed there, either, but that takes a little more work and is fodder for another time.]