We’ve already discussed the need for rules when it comes to writing. And we’ve contemplated this framework reflects how writing mirrors life. But what happens when rules proliferate for their own sake and become arbitrary?
Let’s go in that other direction and overburden ourselves with rules. For instance, every sentence must be minimally subject and predicate (Floppy ran.). Every sentence can only follow the subject-predicate-object format (Floppy ran home.). No sentence can be longer than fifteen words.
Let’s check in with Floppy:
Floppy the hen led her chicks into the yard to eat bugs. She spied a recognizable shadow slide along the ground. She realized a hawk was flying overhead. Floppy exclaimed “I say yikes!” She spread out her wings and dashed to the coop as fast as she could. The chicks ran under her wings.
The potential for page-turning drama (if you’re a chicken) falls as flat as the exposition. There are even some fairly active verbs (spied, slide, dashed) used in an attempt to compensate, but the story doesn’t flourish.
Without any rules for writing, reading would be an experience of mass confusion. But unnecessary rules in writing choke the vitality from the reading experience. Just as we need laws (don’t murder and steal) to have a free society, oppressive laws (shut up) suck vitality from the culture.
It’s no shock writers tend to be proponents of free speech (spoken and written). It’s no surprise people disagree on some matters (notice the range of reviews on any one book). It’s true certain subjects should stay in their place (you don’t read War and Peace to kindergarteners), but some themes are universal (anybody can read Horton Hears a Who).
Let’s revisit Floppy now that she’s free of arbitrary rules:
Floppy the hen led her chicks into the yard on a sunny day when the sky was clear. While they scratched around for bugs, she spied a sinister shadow ripple across the grass. “Yikes!” she squawked. Floppy whipped out the sawed-off shotgun strapped beneath her wings, and blasted off the hawk’s tail feathers. Her chicks cheeped with delight as he bolted into the next county.
The hawk landed on a dead tree branch and rubbed his blistered rump. “What the %*#& just happened?”
Yes, I know hawks are federally protected … but chickens don’t have inalienable human rights, so they live by their own set of rules….