How to be a rulebreaker

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From kindergarten to college, we’re told to follow countless rules pertaining to the way we write. The crazy thing about those rules is that they truly don’t matter in a creative context. Sure, for a research paper it’s probably ideal to have correct punctuation and complete sentences. In contexts such as art, however, rule-breaking and lack of structure can greatly add to the overall effect of writing.

There are thousands of books, poems and short stories that completely disregard many of the laid-out rules through grammar and literature. Rulebreakers range from William Faulkner to Julio Cortázar, and they show that writers don’t need to follow rules in order to create a meaningful piece of work.

Many successful books disregard traditional grammar rules, such as Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.” Large sections of the book are written without any punctuation or proper grammar, and it only adds to the narrative. As the characters’ thoughts become more frantic and disjointed, the lack of punctuation reflects their stream of consciousness so as to make the experience that much more personal.

Jenny Offill creates a similar experience in her book “Dept. of Speculation.” Smaller fragments of thoughts and feelings are separated on the pages, but work together to create a cohesive narrative about a failing marriage. The choice of nuanced writing allows the reader to understand the narrator’s internal struggles through illustration rather than explicit explanation.

In addition to disregarding proper grammar and punctuation, rules can be broken by playing with the idea of chronological reading. We’re taught to read from left to right and front to back, but what happens when we look at a narrative in a different way?

Samuel Beckett is a great example of playing with the idea of reading chronologically. His plays “Happy Days” and “Waiting for Godot,” while very entertaining, cause us to question the timeline. As the characters continuously repeat their actions or an event occurs in the second act which seems like it was present in the first, the reader begins to wonder, does this narrative function in a circle? Which act came first?

While this technique can be a bit mind boggling, it’s interesting to question whether it changes anything about the themes Beckett wishes to convey. It could be argued that this form of writing doesn’t effect the narrative, that Beckett’s point could be made just as well without it. Yet it’s important to recognize that the function of playing with time underlines and accentuates the major themes, such as the repetitive futility of everyday actions in “Waiting for Godot.”

The manipulation of time is seen in many places and can be construed quite differently. While writers such as Beckett switch first and last, writers like Cortázar create the potential for intertwined timelines.

In his book “Hopscotch,” Cortázar offers a new perspective on reading and writing by providing specific instructions on how to read his book. There are two different sequence of chapters that can be read alternating or separately. By intertwining one sequence with another, you experience a more fleshed out narrative than you would by just reading the first sequence of chapters. This causes us to question the way we read books and what we’re missing out on by reading and writing with rules, regulations and strict timelines.

Alongside the aforementioned writers, there are countless other authors writing in alternative fashions who are definitely worth a look. They each have a thing or two to teach us about the way we experience literature.

It really is crazy to think that after adapting to so many rules, you don’t really need them.

Contact Hailey Johnson at [email protected].