I had an interesting conversation with my best friend's teenage daughter about writing. Gena who is exceptionally bright excels especially in math and science. I was urging her to pursue a career in this male-dominated field and make her mark as a remarkable female. I strongly believe we need to push our girls in the math and science areas. My own daughter Cambria loves geology and science, but she's also extremely creative. While we were talking the subject of English vs. math came up. It was interesting how (like many people) Gena saw English as being more open to interpretation and not as "black and white" as math.
I've thought about this a lot since I am an editor and writer. What most people don't realize is that grammar is finite. Once you determine your style rules (AP Style, Chicago Style, Strunk and White), you then have to play by those rules. Grammar though while driven by different styles is precise. I sometimes think people believe the comma is like a wandering object LOL (you can place it anywhere), but that isn't true either. Commas have rules too. If you see a "wandering" comma it's because the person isn't using it correctly or consistently.
What I explained to Gena is the creativity isn't necessarily in the grammar - the creativity comes from the writing process and storytelling (depending whether it's fiction or nonfiction). Your story and ideas are used as part of the creative process. Yet even in narrative and storytelling, it's still a black and white world consisting of structure. What I teach in my workshops is a critical ingredient to structure and being creative with it. I teach two things:
You can't break the rules unless you know the rules. This tip applies to a lot of things, but in writing if you want to break structure and organization, it's important that you understand what exactly you're breaking. If you stumble through your storytelling process then the unorganized array of thoughts and story become apparent to the reader who then doesn't understand your story. For example, if you're going to break the structure of how you write each chapter, you need to know what is the original structure and then knowingly play with it. The no. #1 question to keep in mind is whether it's making sense. So if you're telling a linear story in a particular chapter and decide to switch it back in time, you need to use what I call "sign posts" to let your reader know you're switching to the past or future. Simply switching backward and forward without any indication in the narrative of what you're doing will confuse the reader.
Only those seasoned professionals shall trespass. What do I mean? When I work with new writers and they're trying to be daring with their first book I always warn them to only try what their skills allow. Again, know the rules to break them. Once broken make sure it makes sense. If you're new and you don't know exactly how to bend the rules in a creative way that makes sense, maybe you're first book isn't the place to challenge your talents. Now if a writer can adeptly take the challenge of doing a book in a whole new style - great. I more commonly though see writers who toy with the idea of "messing" with the creation of a unique narrative. When they give me the uncertain look of "how do I do this?" I will redirect them back to traditional narrative until that look goes away. It's very hard to teach a new writer a difficult writing trick. So save the trickier writing for the day when you don't have to ask, "How do I do this?"
All right so you've read this far. Guess what? I am a book coach. All of the information I just shared I provide to my book coaching sessions. This year for regional authors, I now offer one-on-one private coaching sessions as part of the publishing services. The one-on-one coaching is the most enjoyable part of my job. When I see the authors' eyes light up with that a-ha moment, I find it gratifying. If you don't live here I do conference coaching and Facetime too.
If you're interested in working with me as your personal book coach, please contact me at info@3LPublishing.com or call 916-300-8012.