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Knowing When to Break the Rules

When it comes to writing anything there are rules. Grammar rules, spelling rules, style rules, layout rules, format rules and all sorts of other rules to do with genres, characters etc.

The first hurdle is learning all these rules but if all of them were obeyed 100% of the time the books, films, poems and everything else we write would be rather boring if they all followed all the rules. We’d all sound similar and nothing would feel that unique.

So here’s some of the reasons I break the rules:

If the emphasis of a sentence is lost if I stick to the grammar rules I occasionally have something not quite so correct. Often this is when the subject of the sentence isn’t what I actually want to focus on. I probably only do this with 2-3 sentences in an entire book though.

The only other grammar rule I break is because I think the language has moved on and it involves the ellipses. I always miss the space before and have it follow on the previous word like this… rather than likes this … because the ellipses was origionally used when quoting to note that something had been missed out, and when that’s why I’m using it I still put the space before in there but I also use an ellipses when a character trails off a sentence and then it’s used online without the space beforehand.

I also occasionally break the ‘rule’ not to use passive voice as again it can help get the right emphasis to break the rule. There are some other good examples of breking these sorts of rules. The line ‘to boldly go where no one has gone before’ breaks the rule of not splitting infinitives. ‘to go’ is being split by ‘boldly’ but ‘to go boldly’ doesn’t sound right.

There are also rules about not having scenes in books and films unless they move the plot forward but occasionally I keep a scene that’s just character based and helps the reader get to know the character. While this can slow the pace of a book it also helps the reader feel connected to the people they’re reading about. A balance should be struck between these two. My editor and proof-readers weigh in heavily on whether I keep these scenes or not as they are less attached to the characters than I am.

There are a few others I’ve broken over the years writing but they always come down to whether I think they add to the overall storyline, feel and point of the piece. It’s important to remember that the rules are there for a reason but sometimes breaking them just works.

Making a language from scratch

If you’ve looked at some of the other pages here on my blog you may have noticed near the bottom of the other page, it talks about me writing my own language. That language is currently called Nafairu and is based loosely on Russian, German and a few other languages here and there for good measure. It’s now a year since I first started and with the work I’ve put in, off and on, there is now approx 840 words.

Over the last year I’ve had quite a lot of interest in how I went about starting my language so here’s a little of what I did.


I knew I was going to need to brush up on my grammar for this kind of endeavor. My grammar really wasn’t great, thankfully making a language has improved this. I spent probably about a day studying grammar rules of other languages. Things like how they handle past tense, present tense etc and verb forms, noun genders and all sorts of things. French and German for example have noun genders and have several different words for the, depending on the gender of the noun that follows. English obviously doesn’t. We just have the.

For Nafairu I had to decide all of these things, how I was going to handle all the tenses, gender etc. before I could even begin to come up with words.


Next I had to think about what alphabet I was going to use. English uses the Roman alphabet but many languages like Russian, Hebrew etc use their own alphabets. I also could then decide how many letters I was to have. Even using a pre-made language doesn’t mean you have to use all the letters or collections of letters like sch in German. I decided for now I’d use the Roman Alphabet but I’d do it in a way that if I wanted to assign each letter a new one later and switch alphabet I could. Sometimes one thing at a time is more than enough.


Once letters and grammar is decided the important thing becomes how the language sounds, not just each word, but each letter. Are the letters said in their short forms, long forms, what happens with pairs of certain letters, what new sounding letters do you want. What’s the overall feel of the language. Is it the soft ethereal language of the elves or the harsh gruff sounds of the Klingon warriors. All this has an effect on the latter processes and needs to be born in mind when creating words, especially if the intention is for the language to be spoken.

First task

Only after the above decisions have all been made (and noted down) can you get onto actually coming up with some words. I started with the basics, the, he, she, them etc and a few things like basic numbers and anything else I thought I was going to use a lot like the verbs have, be etc.

Second task

When I got bored of randomly picking words I decided to get to work onĀ  translating a piece of writing, coming up with the words as I needed them. I started this process by using my diary. I don’t really keep a diary but for a little while I decided to just so I’d have something to translate. It worked for about 2 weeks and by that time I was about a week behind in writing in English and translating into Nafairu. It did get me started though. I had approximately 500 words by the time I stopped.

Final task

My last task in making this language was getting other people involved. I mean I can’t really have a conversation with just myself. I’ve done this by putting the dictionary on google documents and giving all my helpers access to see the document but not edit. This means I can write them letters in the new language, they can translate it and write some back again in the new language. When I translate back I can get a feel for what rules are and aren’t working well, if my language is too confusing and how well it flows.

What’s next?

When I hit about 1500 words I plan to start trying to hold actual conversations. Nothing too complicated but something to get me used to hearing the language and it’s phonetics. I do think I’m going to need some more correspondents to get me there anytime soon, however, any volunteers?



Category: How-to  Tags: , , ,  3 Comments