I’ve been a ski instructor at a major resort. But most of my ski instructor experience came from teaching friends and family. Sometimes I taught complete beginners, other times I passed on advice I received, and others I acted as a second set of eyes. Every pupil chose certain advice to take and certain advice to ignore. People learned to do the same action different ways, and sometimes they did different actions the same way. Basically, they took the instruction and advice and used it to best fit their purposes. They took the lesson I was delivering and applied it in their own way. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. Some people fell in love with skiing, others not so much. What worked for some did not work for all.
Writing is no different. What works for one writer may not work for another. One writer may be able to break rules that another cannot. If it weren’t true, then everyone would have made millions of dollars off their vampire novels and we’d all have our own wizard theme parks down in Orlando. Beginning writers often believe they can do the same as other authors for two reasons: First, they’re not breaking the rules with knowledge and purpose, and, second, they think they that imitation equals success.
Think back to your middle school English classes. Remember your teacher saying, “Never start a sentence with AND” or “Never begin a sentence with BECAUSE.” Because students didn’t know how to use grammar correctly, it was simply easier for a teacher to prohibit situations in which they would make the mistake. And as a result of this, students believed that AND and BECAUSE could never start a sentence.
Of course we can start sentences with conjunctions. The beginning writer will, just like the expert. But, the beginning writer often does it subconsciously or completely unconsciously. This means they are not deliberate about their word choice nor are they usually using the conjunctions correctly. Meanwhile, the expert writer does it with deliberate intent. Artists call this idea “Creative License”. Some use it to break perspectives and go against established norms. Hollywood uses it to make a movie completely different from the book.
I turn to an author and researcher with statistical data to back up this point. In “Understanding Composing” Sandra Pearl writes,
What is “right” or “wrong” corresponds to our sense of our intention. We intend to write something, words come, and now we assess if those words adequately capture our intended meaning. Thus, the first question we ask ourselves is, “Are these words right for me?” “Do they capture what I’m trying to say?” and “If not, what’s missing?”
Every writer must answer these questions for him/herself. Critics and readers may illuminate where the words are not effective or where they struggle to understand, but only an experienced author can discover and answer the “What’s Missing?” questions. It’s the author’s story after all, no one else’s. Answers to What’s Missing and the construction of What’s There will always differ. Thus having some un-nameable trait to your writing might excuse a clear fault. You must set out with a clear intention and accomplish that intention artfully and purposefully. Deliberate rule-breaking to that end is encouraged. Rule-breaking because of error or misjudgment is not.
The same words in different hands create different products. If a beginning writer uses obscene language in clichéd or forced dialogue, the use of such eye-catching language will be a fault. If the overall context of the scene and the characters built prior to that moment necessitate that obscenity, then it’s acceptable (if not laudable). Following the truth and power of your overall story and the masterful use of your words, you can write anything. But the moment it is not truth and language, it’s cheap trash – and you’ll be faulted for it. Even if someone else gets away with it, you might not.