Before I get into my reasoning for the post title, I have to give a little personal background.
I've never been the best student in the world. You were more likely to find me goofing off in junior high and high school rather than hitting the books -- I managed to skate through most of my classes with fairly good grades because of how fast I'm able to learn things. I'm not kidding when I say that. Information that some people take weeks to learn I can take in and accurately use within a quarter to half that time. I once wrote a philosophy of religion paper comparing the theories of three philosophers while only having read one paragraph of each document. And it took me 20 minutes to write the paper, whereas my best friend (who was also in the class) took hours to do so.
I tend to be either the student teachers love or the one they hate because I get the material without even really trying. I'd think someone like me was annoying as all get out were I a teacher. Which I don't plan on ever being, much to my mother's dismay (mom teaches ESL to adults).
So here's my theory when it comes to writing: There are no rules.
Let me elaborate. There are dozens of style guides in existence for all forms of writing -- medical, academic, fiction, journalistic, technical, etc. -- the list goes on and on. Then there's disagreement within the same style guides depending on which edition of the guide you follow. For example, The Associated Press re-issues their style guide every year, and every year at least one thing changes. That means if you have a style guide from four years ago it's basically worthless.
The vaunted "rules" that we hear about in school aren't, in point of fact, rules at all. They're conventions that have been agreed upon by teachers and grammarians nationwide and spoon-fed down the line to the students. A perfect example is the axiom to "never start a sentence with the word 'and.'" This is a fallacy because you can start a sentence with the word "and." The problem you run into is that it's hard to make the sentence complete when you start it with words like "and" or "but." But you can do it. See? One so-called rule shattered.
You really start getting into mass confusion once it's understood that all our "rules" exist because 60 percent of the English language is derived from Latin, a language that is so rules-based it's ridiculous. Because X, where X is a particular grammar rule, is an impossibility in Latin, it's considered bad form in English. Then you find out that Latin didn't actually have any punctuation. No periods. Or commas. Or semicolons.
What, you may ask, was the result of all this linguistic theorizing? A healthy dislike of grammar textbooks for one, and the realization that I can edit a whole lot better by simply reading the text out loud rather than asking myself if I've followed all the "rules" in the sentence. Parts of speech? Not my forte. Do I know what a compound modifier is?* Or a gerund? Can I explain the past participle form and when to use it? Nope. Not a single one.
Does lacking that knowledge make me less of a skilled writer? I don't think so. It certainly doesn't make me any less of a well-versed editor. In fact it probably helps, because I edit from an emotional and not technical standpoint (I had to retake the SAT for a tutoring position at one point and I disagreed with several answers they said were right). And emotional editing is what you need when it comes to fiction because really, who cares if it's technically correct but doesn't impact the reader?
So all the rules that we've been taught in school of what makes writing good can be thrown out the window right? Maybe. The text still has to be understandable, after all. There's also one rule, and only one, that you can't break when it comes to fiction.
What is it, you ask? Well that's an easy answer.
Tell an interesting story.
P.S. Don't forget about the Ten-Word Novel Contest! Only nine more days to enter, and the competition's getting fierce!
P.P.S. To Adam Heine -- I finished Air Pirates and will email my critique to you by Christmas Eve at the latest.
* I do know what a compound modifier is, but only because I learned that while working as a copy editor at a newspaper.