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I am wondering what is the limit, if any, of justifying one's writing style as being creative.

I have often seen the use of a single word or phrase as a 'sentence' for creating impact. Example: "It was a large knife. Sharp and shiny."

Some other examples are starting a sentence with a conjunction (e.g. and) and using one sentence paragraph.

Question: Is it justifiable to disregard grammar rules for a specific creative purpose such as creating impact in the minds of readers?

Note: The above is usually not a problem to a person who does not speak English as his/her first language. English is my fourth language and I can tell you that. However, it may appear incomplete or incorrect to someone whose first language is English.

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The first example may violate "grammar rules." But "don't begin a sentence with a conjunction!" is fictitious nonsense, and "don't write a paragraph with only one sentence" is risible. –  Evan Harper Jun 15 '13 at 3:12
For what it's worth, I think native speakers will almost always blow past grammatical errors in literature as well. It's not a recent trend by any stretch, we've all grown up with texts that are thoroughly ungrammatical. Grammar is what you use when you're writing an essay for school. Other than that, I can't really think of a case where applies as more than a general guideline. –  sh1ftst0rm Jun 17 '13 at 12:07
As to the limits of creative abuse of the language: take a look at James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake". Many would argue that it's among the most important literary works of the 20th century and it's all but incomprehensible for its "creative use" of the language. –  sh1ftst0rm Jun 17 '13 at 12:10
Yes. Perfectly justifiable. –  Tannalein Jun 19 '13 at 3:58
@sh1ftst0rm No, I don't think you can say grammar is only required for school and a guideline elsewhere. Grammar is the skeleton, the architecture on which language and thereby communication both hang. You can creatively break the rules if the message or the aesthetic justifies it, but not just randomly because you don't feel like writing correctly. There's a difference between a jazz solo and a preschooler banging on a keyboard. –  Lauren Ipsum Jun 20 '13 at 13:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Grammar "violations" are perfectly fine in fiction, as long as they create the effect you desire in the reader.

Incomplete sentences can (sometimes) pick up the pace, or make the reading choppy and staccato. When you want those effects, use incomplete sentences.

Starting a sentence with a conjunction can (sometimes) make sentences flow together in an almost hypnotic way. They can suggest that the narrator is speaking/writing/thinking informally. When you want those effects, start a sentence with a conjunction.

For me, it's the same with every rule, whether it's a rule of grammar or a so-called rule of writing. What effects does following this rule create in the reader? What effects do "violations" create? Which effects do I want to create?

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Thanks Dale. There can't be a better answer. –  Javeer Baker Jun 14 '13 at 23:17

Ask advice in any domain of creativity; art, photography, writing, movies, and you'll hear the same answer:

Learn the rules of the trade, then break them.

Any rule can be violated. Grammar, logic, style, pacing, anything! But you don't just go about writing, forgetting the rules, missing or misunderstanding them. You don't just know the rules perfectly, you also understand consequences of violating them. Then you break them in such a way as to achieve your specific goal, impress a specific effect on the reader. You can achieve the effects stronger and faster than if you just used "proper tools of the trade".

Example: poor grammar is a clear sign of inexperienced writer. The rule is "Use good grammar". But the story has a protagonist who is definitely a poor writer. What better way to show that than to give the reader a sample text written in-story by the protagonist? Then, as you're writing that letter, you make grammar mistakes on purpose, strictly violating that rule - because the consequence is desired.

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An obsession with proper grammer at all costs can also be the sign of an inexperienced writer. –  Neil Fein Jun 15 '13 at 14:59
@NeilFein I agree — look at "to boldly go." There's a poetry in that split infinitive which can't be achieved if you stick with strict, prescriptive English grammar rules. (However, I still can't decide if your typo is a deliberate wink.) –  Lauren Ipsum Jun 16 '13 at 16:01
I'll never tell! –  Neil Fein Jun 17 '13 at 1:22
@Tannalein: Currently it isn't incorrect... at time Star Trek was made it was. English is currently evolving rapidly. All major dictionary makers ceased to try to impose "what is incorrect" and switched from prescriptivist to descriptivist. Structures that were deemed incorrect 20 years ago are accepted mainstream now - and Star Trek was about the most significant contributor to global acceptance of split infinitives. If you want to learn more on this subject, visit English.SE –  SF. Jun 19 '13 at 7:37
@Tannalein Yep, it's called poetic license. Sometimes you just gotta break the rule. :) –  Lauren Ipsum Jun 19 '13 at 23:22

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