Grammar for Fiction Writers: Busy Writer's Guides Book (2014)

Part V. “Rules” You Can Safely Ignore When Writing Fiction

Chapter 24. Grammar Taboos That Aren’t

Throughout this book, you might have noticed me using certain grammar conventions that your high school teachers taught were wrong. Well, they still are in formal English (such as scholarly journal articles), but for blog posts, magazine articles, and fiction, you can use all of them freely, without fearing repercussions.

SENTENCE FRAGMENTS

A sentence fragment is a part of a sentence, standing alone. It’s incomplete because it lacks a subject, a predicate, or sometimes both. I’ve underlined the sentence fragments in the example below.

She couldn’t. Not here. Not now.

Sentence fragments are part of what add variety to informal writing. For fiction writers, they also make internal dialogue and spoken dialogue feel more realistic. We all use sentence fragments when we talk and when we think.

SPLIT INFINITIVES

An infinitive is most easily recognized as to tacked on to the front of a verb.

To forbid

To oppose

To run

To sing

Many high school teachers tell their students not to put anything in between the to and its verb.

People have been breaking this “rule” since the 1300s, and there’s nothing wrong with doing so if it’s the best way to write the sentence.

After all, who’s going to argue that to boldly go should have been to go boldly?

BEGINNING A SENTENCE WITH A CONJUNCTION

This is the same type of situation as the sentence fragment above. You don’t want to begin a sentence with a conjunction (e.g., andbut) in formal writing, but for blog posts, magazine articles, non-fiction books, and novels, go for it.

I knew I should go to the dinner. But I didn’t want to.

The caveat is that you don’t want to overdo it, and you should make sure you’re using it for the sake of emphasis or cadence rather than just because you can.

ENDING A SENTENCE WITH A PREPOSITION

preposition is a positioning word (e.g., atbyforintooffoverunderupwith).

The problem with saying you shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition is that a perfectly good sentence like…

Find out where he came from.

turns into the awkward…

Find out from where he came.

Feel free to ignore anyone who tells you that you can’t end a sentence with a preposition, and only abide by this rule if you’re writing historical dialogue or a pretentious character.

ANYTHING GOES IN DIALOGUE…ALMOST

Earlier in this book, we talked about punctuation rules and how to properly format your dialogue. Those always apply.

But when it comes to grammar, misused or confused words, and almost everything else, you can throw it out the window when you’re writing dialogue as long as you’re true to your character in doing so. Even the most grammar-conscious among us don’t abide by all the rules when they speak.