When Rules Should be Broken

Young writers are often told by their teachers in grade school how to write.  We are taught that there are set rules on how to accomplish the perfect essay and you must always follow these rules.    As a writer in undergrad this just really bothers me.   Some of the rules that still haunt me are never start a sentence with and or but,  and never use the first person point of view in academic writing.  I often break these rules in my writing and I’m often told by my peers not to do that following the mantra of grade school.  So who’s right here?  Do we follow the rules that were ingrained into us or do we express our own creative selves by breaking them?


Anjali Sachdeva a writer, editor and teacher agrees that some rules need to be broken.  In here article “5 Classic Writing Rules We Could Do Without”  she discusses rules that she finds problematic.  Rule 1. Show, don’t tell, is particularly important in the world of creative non-fiction.  How often are we told in class revisions to do this?  For me, its a topic, comment, or point of discussion for every essay we address.  Sachdeva explains that the rule means to describe and give details, rather than just stating what happened.  She also said that the number of times this rule can be implemented, it can also have exceptions.  Most pieces of writing have a combination of “showing” (describing scenes) and “telling” (giving summary).  If we focus on the “show” Sachdeva says “we risk overloading our prose with unnecessary descriptors, or devoting excessive page space to something that would be better dealt with in a few sentences of summary.”  In other words, we need a balance.


This makes sense to me.  Pretend you are back in grade school and it is show and tell day.  If we were to show, don’t tell, we would bring in the object, put it on a desk in the front of the class, and that’s it.  According to the rules, this is suffice.  We know that it isn’t though.  If you don’t know what the object is or what it means to the person who owns it, then what purpose does it have?  Let’s turn the tables.  Your a little kid after all, chances are you forgot your object.  Now you have nothing to show but your just going to talk about the object as you stand in the front of the room.  Sounds pretty boring.  You’ll lose your audience and the connection of understanding why this is so important to the writer.   This is why it’s called “Show and Tell” after all. If you do one over the other, it’s just not as good.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.